Smok’n Pig BBQ, Aldosta GA

When you think of world famous BBQ, you probably think of Kansas City or Memphis. I doubt Valdosta, GA comes to mind. That is unless you have ever had the opportunity to eat at Smok’n Pig BBQ. Nd this great local restaurant several years ago when driving to Florida to play softball. One of Kassie’s friends had recommended we stop. We were passing through Valdosta at lunch time, so we took a chance and stopped. The Smok’n Pig is now a regular stop any time we drive to Florida.

I’m not sure that there is one dish that you can say is their speciality. Although I am partial to their pulled pork, the brisket is very flavorful and the ribs slip off the bone. I often do not select BBQ because I often do not like the sauce. Well, that is not a problem at the Pig…they have six signature sauces on every table. In addition to a great selection of entrees, their meals are served with succulent sides, a fresh salad bar and for dessert fresh, warm peach cobbler with vanilla soft serve.

The kids at home who were not able to be on this trip were envious that we had lunch at the Pig. However, we didn’t forget that they weren’t able to be with us. Along with great food, the Smok’n Pig has a great selection of whimsical t-shirts. Below are two of those that we brought home ….

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The Smok’n Pig has now opened a second location in Macon GA. Although we haven’t been to the Macon location, we prefer the original location in Valdosta. It is conveniently located just off Interstate 75. Remember to come hungry and savor every bite!

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The Daytona Beach Farmer’s Market–Eating Fresh Year Round

For Midwesterners, enjoying fresh picked citrus in the winter is such a treat. While we were visiting Daytona Beach, my friend, Kristie, and I decided to go to a local fruit vendor. We had picked up a coupon at the resort and wanted to check it out. I wanted to bring my folks fresh grape fruits, if they had any.

On our drive through downtown area, we saw the fruit shop but not before we spotted the farmer’s market. We decided to venture over to the market before going to the shop. Having lived in the Midwest all my life, it was such a pleasant change to see a robust farmer’s market the first weekend of January. It was close to noon and many of the vendors were close to selling out. We walked through the vendors sampling some of the unique items that we seldom see in Missouri. Like most markets, the vendors had a variety of items–produce, herbs, baked goods, and crafts. Kristie and I made a couple purchases that we thought we could share during the remainder of the trip–honey dew melon, strawberries and tomatoes. Below are a couple stands with a great array of produce

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Although we didn’t find any grapefruit, we decided to sample a couple types of oranges that we hadn’t tasted before. This stand allowed us to same each variety before purchasing them.

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But Kristie purchased the find of the day. Boiled peanuts in jalapeƱo sauce. Although I don’t prefer peanuts, Kristie said they were very good. Neither of us had ever heard of serving peanuts in a sauce. Kristie purchased a small bag for the boys to try and we were off to the citrus store.

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Thank goodness both of our families had driven to Florida. Once across the street at the fruit store, we found even more. We picked up,a couple more oranges and I purchased the sweetest pink grapefruit I had ever tasted. They were almost as sweet as an orange. We also picked up some fruit jams, jellies and marmalade made from citrus picked locally in Florida.

Although I wish we lived closer to this year round bounty, we don’t. We are all home safely in the Midwest but we continue to enjoy the fruit we purchased that great day in Daytona. Until our next trip we will savor the fruit of our adventures

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Mandarin Garden, Orlando Florida

Have you ever stumbled into a small local restaurant and realize that you found a true gem. Well, on our recent trip to Orlando, we set out to have pizza for dinner. We had been to a local Orlando pizza place on past trips and really liked its flavor. On this particular night, we thought we would try a new location. Well, as hard as we tried we never found the location and rather than drive across town to one of the two other locations, we decided just to grab a bite at one of the restaurants in the same neighborhood as our resort.

We quickly spotted a small Chinese restaurant in a strip mall. It didn’t look very busy but we were tired and decided to give it a try. When we entered the restaurant there was only one table of two people. This always makes me nervous but it was very clean and the host greeted us right away. We took a seat and quickly had our menus and drinks. We decided that we would each order an entree then share between the three of us so we could sample several of the dishes. We selected lo Mein, orange chicken and Mongolian beef. Now we often order these items so I wasn’t expecting anything unusual.

As we waited on our food, a couple came in. They seemed to be regulars or possibly somehow connected to the restaurant. They sat at a table close to the kitchen and spoke with the waiter. The gentleman shared with us that we were dining at the best Chinese restaurant in Orlando. When our food was served we knew he was right. I’m not so sure that dinner that evening was not the best Chinese dinner we have ever had. Each dish was bursting with flavor. The orange chicken, complete with fresh orange zest, was to die for.

I wish I had captured this meal in pictures but I didn’t. This particular evening we were tired and just wanted to relax and enjoy a good meal. We did just that as well as enjoyed chatting with our waiter and the couple who joined us We even got to meet the chef. Although he was busy with a number of take-out orders, he came out and spoke to every person in the restaurant to ensure we were enjoying our dinners.

Although the location was in a strip mall and it was far from convenient to enter, but once inside this place was a hidden gem. We will definitely remember Mandarin Garden on subsequent trips to Orlando. It was tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks and the food was wonderful. I encourage you to take a drive down Hwy 192 and slip into Mandarin Garden for lunch or dinner.

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Chuy’s in Orlando–A Tex Mex Treat

The girls and I are Mexican fans. To me, I love finding a Mexican restaurant wherever I travel. There are so many variations that it’s never the same. Always a wide variety if flavors. It’s like a comfort food staple. My colleague, Candy, and I love to explore new food options but we often come home to sharing nachos and a chicken quesadilla. We have solved many problems and flushed out many new ideas while sharing this meal.

On our trip to Florida, Kassie got to select where we ate lunch one day. She wanted Mexican so we researched our options. We decided to try Chuy’s. The website had good reviews and the photos looked good. The site said it was a small chain that started in San Antonio and this was the only one in Orlando.

Well, the reviews did not disappoint. From the moment we walked in we knew we were in for a treat. The decorations were quite eclectic–both inside and on the patio. We were seated in the side room between the main dining room and the patio. It was a great place to see the whole restaurant and take in the whole experience. The waitress came over soon after we were seated and let us know that when the first restaurant was started they had a very low budget so they didn’t have a lot of money for decorations. They found items of little to no cost to them to decorate. They did, however, have two Elvis pictures. As time went by, people began to donate things to them, including a large number of Elvis pictures. Although I didn’t take a picture of the Elvis memorabilia, I did have to snap a quick photo of the hub caps adorning the dining room ceiling.

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As much as we enjoyed the atmosphere, the food was even more memorable. Everything was made fresh in house. I enjoyed the flavors. I also enjoyed the authentic Tex Mex dishes and variety of sauces and seasonings. So many times Mexican restaurants have very similar favors and dishes. Not Chuy’s. I ordered the lunch special of the day. It was a chicken taco plate but it wasn’t your ordinary chicken tacos. The plate had two rather large tacos made with Elvis Fried Chicken (chicken strips costed in Lays Potato chip crumbs) fresh avocado, lettuce and tomato wrapped in a warm fresh tortilla. The tacos were served with green chile rice and refried beans. Kassie had a chimichanga and Bobby a burrito. Each dish fresh and full of flavor.

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So if you are in the Orlando area and wanting a fun dining experience with fresh Mexican food, I recommend you stop by Chuy’s.

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Customer Service: A key component of any meal

Although the food is the most important part of any meal, poor customer service can ruin a dining experience. Over the holidays, we have been traveling. That means a new adventures in eating. When we travel I love to find new places to eat. I really like to find local places to eat that give you the rich flavor of the area. This trip has lived up to my expectations and you can look forward to more posts about the places we have eaten, but before I tell you about the great places we have found, I wanted to share more about the service we have received.

In college I worked at a bar and grill so I understand that working in food service is not always easy. I know that some customers are not always the easiest to serve. Yet, I do think high quality servers can make a dining experience. Bobby and I both love chatting with our servers. I especially like asking the server for their recommendations, especially if it is my first time at the establishment or if I am having difficulty deciding between multiple entrees. However, nothing can ruin a dining experience as a poor server nd poor customer service.

On this trip, we drove from Missouri to Illinois for Christmas with Bobby’s family. From there we drove to Florida. Since we were driving, we made several stops and the experiences gave me the idea for this blog . . .

On the first night, we stopped in southern Illinois. Having had a holiday meal earlier in the day and arriving at the hotel about 9pm, we thought we would just order a pizza and eat it in the room. When I arrived at the hotel and was checking in, I asked the hotel clerk what she would recommend. She was very helpful. She kindly asked what type of pizza we preferred then made two recommendations. Each place having very different specialities. Bobby, Kassie and I discussed our options and ordered. The clerk’s recommendations were spot on and we enjoyed a wonderful, relaxing meal in the hotel.

Along the way, we have had very similar experiences. As you might have imagined, there was a couple experiences that made me sit back and reflect on the importance of customer service. And actually the two that come to my mind, both came on the second day of traveling. It was a long day on the road. We drove from southern Illinois to Valdosta, Georgia. In an attempt to make good time, we decided to stop at a fast food restaurant so that we could get out and stretch but not lose too much travel time. It was after the lunch rush. Although there were several families dining, there was no one at the counter as we stepped up to order. Kassie ordered first. She was quickly told that they did not serve her selection any more even though it was on their menu board. That should have been a sign . . . The food ended up being rather poor quality. When I asked if they had iced tea, I was told that they only served soda. Not being a soda drinker, again I was disappointed, but decided I needed to drink something. As we sat there, we decided it wasn’t just us. When a large family came in and asked for a table to be wiped off so they could sit together, the workers seemed almost out off. We finished our meal and left quickly rather disappointed in our lunch choice.

Our lunch experience was quickly outdone by our evening stop . . . After almost twelve hours on the road and our poor lunch experience what else could happen, right?? Well, lunch held nothing to our lunch . . . After stopping in one town to find all restaurants closed, we pulled off at the next Georgia town to find several fast food restaurants (I was hoping to get out of the car for a sit down meal). When the ones we wanted to eat at were again closed, or shut down, we went to an Arby’s that was in a local truck stop. It wasn’t my ideal dinner stop but again we had about two hours to drive so I gave in as I was getting tired . . . I should have held out but then this article would never have been written. It was late so very few people were in the restaurant. We had only one person in front of us in line. We quickly made our selections and exchanged some laughter with the girl at the counter. She handed us our glasses so we could fill them while our meal was prepared. I drink a lot of iced tea and so was looking forward to having a glass of tea. It wasn’t like me not to have tea with lunch and it had been a long day on the road. I stepped over to the tea dispenser and began to fill my glass . . . The liquid that fills my glass is just a shade darker than water. Basically the tea was empty and all I had was a glass of melted ice water with a splash of tea. Knowing that many restaurants have multiple tea dispensers, I turned to a worker who was next to the drink dispenser and asked if they had another container of tea. The worker says, “I’m sorry we are only allowed to put out so much tea”. I tried to be understanding then explained that the dispenser was empty and I was hoping she could fill my glass from another container. The young lady gave me a blank stare then shrugged her shoulders, turned her back and walked away. I was left standing with a glass of ice water!

To say the least, this was by far the most disappointing day of food experiences. I will be back soon to share more about the great food finds we did find along the way on our Florida excursion…

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Ensuring no one goes hungry

Yesterday, my colleagues and I spent the morning at the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri. Each year in December, folks from HES Extension make their way to the Food Bank to volunteer for a few hours…each year praying we don’t have to repack hot dogs! (They’re cold!). This year was the first time in several year I could join in the fun and I was so happy to be back working along side everyone.

This year we were assigned to repackaged cereal. The cereal arrived at the Food Bank in large crates—350 pounds per container. Two gentlemen made sure our tubs were always full. Here they are opening our third container of the day…

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There were sixteen of us from campus that worked together. We worked in groups of four. One person scooped cereal from the gray tub into a gallon bag held by a second person.

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The second person closed the bag. Person three added a twist tie while person four stapled a label on the bag. I was the labeler. This picture shows a couple of my colleagues working away…don’t you love our hats!

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Once several bags had been labeled, they were taken to an awaiting empty case.

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I so enjoy this day each year. As Tim, the Food Bank staff member told us, ” just remember every bag of cereal is a family served. A large family may receive two bags but usually once bag is one family. I’m proud to say that we repackaged over 1,000 pounds of cereal that will soon be delivered to those in our communities who are in need. I encourage each of you to take a few moments this holiday season and consider giving of your time and/or resources to give back to those who are in need. A couple hours of your time or a couple extra dollars can ensure that no person will be hungry.

As much as we enjoyed our time at the Food Bank, our shift came to a close. We were reassured to know that things were in good hands. Tim was now leading 22 second graders who were busy packing cereal under the direction of their teachers

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The Food Bank staff, lead by Executive Director, Peggy Kirkpatrick, give tirelessly so others will not go hungry. We owe them a debt of gratitude. Please remember them and those who they assist each day and help ensure no one goes hungry this holiday season.

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A cup of tea and warm reflection

We each have our way of reenergizing and most of us need a few moments of time alone to reflect or recharge. Raising four wonderful kids, having a busy work schedule and trying to spend time doing fun things with Bobby has allowed me to often neglect these things over the past few years. Recently, however, I have found a little time each week to have that reflection and really recharge.

Those who know me best know that I am not a coffee drinker….yet…I tell people that “when I grow up” I will learn to drink coffee. I guess I’m not really there. I love the smell as it brews, especially the flavored coffees. When I worked retail after college graduation I loved to walk to the tea/coffee shop and just take in the wonderful aromas. I truly believe I have only drank one or two cups my whole life and that was only to be polite! Funny as this sounds, I love coffee ice cream, especially Haagen Dazs. I can also drink mochas or cappuccinos because they have a hint of coffee with all the other great favors, such as chocolate! I just can’t learn to acquire the taste of a cup of coffee try as I might.

Recently, however, Bobby has reinvigorated my love for hot tea. On Sunday mornings, as I have written here before, we go as a family to a late breakfast. This allows me to have a little time prior to that for just me. I usually read email or get the day started with some small project. But for the past few weeks, I have found that these couple hours of quiet are my time to recharge and reenergize. I have found that if I set aside this time to set quietly in the setting area of our room–no Tv, no music–just myself, my iPad, my tea and my thoughts I set the tone for my whole week.

I credit Bobby and this mug for helping find the time to reconnect…

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On mornings like this…

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…I can take a few moments and write, reflect and recharge. Now, don’t believe this is completely selfish and I am neglecting everyone. This is also the same time Bobby sits and watches Sports Reporters or the latest sports news show and catches up on all the game highlights…I like to think that that is also his way to enjoy his cup and a few moments of reflection too!

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