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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

State Line Barbecue Company






Barbeque!  Smokey, tender, unmistakable! It’s southern through and through.   I can hear you saying, you can get barbeque, or barbecue, or BBQ, or just plain Q all over the U.S., so it’s not just southern.  First of all, in many states below the Mason-Dixon Line it’s a felony to suggest such a thing.  Secondly, have you ever heard someone say, “Let’s drive up north and get some barbeque”?  I have to add that Kansas also has some excellent smoked meat, but it still counts because a big part of the Civil War was fought there.  End of discussion and no more nit-picking.



And another reason I say BBQ is a southern tradition is it’s found ALL ACROSS the south, from the Carolinas to Texas.   Now that’s not to say the barbeque is the same across that broad expanse.



In the east, the folks favor pork and as you travel west you get into cattle country.  And, as a general rule, the sauces follow the same trail, from vinegar and mustard based sauces in the Carolinas to the deep, smoky red sauces in Texas.   Anymore, there are no hard and fast rules and I for one am not too particular, but I am in a constant search for ‘the best.’

I’ve driven miles into deep forests and across wide-open spaces, just because a casual friend happened to mention there ‘might’ be a good Q shack somewhere.  Some places are deserted for miles, until you find yourself surrounded by open fields with a shack in the middle, billowing smoke and surrounded by pickups.

But, I never expected to find superb barbeque in northern Florida.  Surprised is not too strong a word.  Fernandina Beach, State Line Barbecue Company is a touch of BBQ heaven.  Run as a small mom and pop operation, in a former pizza joint, right next to a gas station, astonishes and delights in a number of ways.  Mike and Marci are the owners and Mike tells me he’s been smoking meat since he was a teenager.  His big grin when he talks about his barbecue tells you he knows what he’s saying.  And with each bite, you can taste the love he puts into his passion!

Marci kicks in with delicious homemade potato salad and slaw.  Here I have to emphasize, even if you’re a strict vegetarian it’s worth a trip just for Marci’s 
concoctions!

Marci at work.

But, of course the meat is the main event.  Mike tells me he smokes all the meats in his big smoker that sits right behind the counter.  Pork is smoked for up to 20 hours, the brisket for up to 30 and the ribs for about 6 hours.  Forgive me, Mike if I got those numbers wrong.  See, I just finished eating one of your barbeque pork sandwiches and my memory for anything else is awash in barbecue sauce.

Here's Mike, serving the best barbecue around!



So, what do I usually get?  All three.  Pulled pork sandwich, a brisket sandwich, and some ribs. At my house there are usually two hunger-tinged eaters, especially during football season.  Matter of fact, there are still more games to go…and I happen to be within a mile of State Line.




That’s my cue for Q!  Don’t forget the name.  State Line Barbecue Company, 2020 Sadler Road, Amelia Island, Florida 32034.
Open every day.  Call (904) 310-6652

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Yearnings: A Poem by William Stroud



Christmas Yearnings

I have lived a gypsy life
Of here and there and seldom twice.
Across high peaks and valleys wide
Over beaches washed by tides.
I’ve made fast friends in my sojourns
And for you all my heart still yearns.
With mellow yearnings, windy swirls
As the past around me curls.

And oh my family, oh my friends,
I long to find you once again
Across the oceans’ great divides
You come to me on rising tides
And whisper softly what was then
Of times and places that have been.
Though some have passed and some remain
All together once again.

                        ---William Stroud, Christmas 2019

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Maybe Murder! A New Novel from William Stroud



Maybe Murder picks up where the first John D “Jack” Hudson mystery novel, Lowdown. Dirty. Shame., left off.

This one is also set in Cassavora County, but this time Jack is not accused of murder, he’s being blackmailed to force him to commit murder! Meanwhile, former girlfriends and other women are running rampant over Jack’s quiet social life with plans and dire difficulties of their own.  Twists and turns confront even the most stouthearted, and Jack is never sure he’s up to the task.  The hours and days are ticking away, along with his chances of survival.

Killers are tracking him, the police are suspicious and his life is unraveling.  He’s a writer for god’s sake.  Can’t he plot his way out?

An excerpt from Maybe Murder…

Leo has a way with words, which is to say he can lie to your face and make you swallow it faster than an icy beer in July.  I hesitate to call him, for the simple reason that I can’t let this business of dispatching the Chief Deputy get out and about. For reasons of self-preservation, I want to take care of everything myself.  As the saying goes, the only way for three men to keep a secret is to kill two of them.  

As a lawyer, Leo Sporata was in and out of dusty courtrooms for almost twenty years.  The last one saw him in the dock for contempt and impeding a federal investigation.  He managed to scamper away only because he was the man who knew too much.  Deal cut.  No jail, but disbarment.  Now he pedals information to whomever has the right amount of cash and can do him the most good. That includes customers across the spectrum, such as companies, prosecutors, defense attorneys, anyone whose work takes them into the legal shadows.  Excellent business model.  He prospers to the tune of two shiny cars and an architect’s dream home on the 7th fairway of a primo golf course, right outside this state’s major city.  Tell me crime doesn’t pay.

Leo meets me now and again, just to down a few and pass the time.  We’re friends and that’s a mystery to both of us.  He’s a weasel with a cast iron heart, while I wear my thumper on my sleeve so everyone can watch me bleed.

I swallow my reservations and call Leo.  We meet at Norway’s Wayside, a tavern owned and run by Jimmy Norway.  Quiet place in the afternoon. Classy.  Long mahogany bar that’s well stocked, dimmed lighting, and bar food that’s more than acceptable.  Another thing that makes Leo and me both favor this place is the lack of screechy music, with King Kong pounding the drums.  Right now, coming out of hidden speakers, there’s a subdued sax and the tinkle of the ivories, backed by the light brushes of a careful drummer.

Leo is in a relaxed slouch, in a booth and already sipping some microbrewery concoction I know he’s going to tell me about.  “You see Jack, there’s a lot more to beer than just hops, malt, and water.  Take this Red River Pilsner,” he says, holding up his glass and peering at it like it’s the last will and testament of Jesus of Nazareth, “It’s full bodied, yet has hints of ripe plums, with a leathery finish.  You can’t find beer like this very often.”

“I’d say the word beer pretty much sums it up.”

“That’s because your taste buds are shot and your education is lacking.”  He grins, showing teeth big enough to make a thoroughbred envious.  “But I know a fine brew is lost on you, so I ordered you…” he stops as a white shirted waiter approaches with a silver tray.  Resting on top is my liquor on the rocks, in a crystal whisky tumbler, plus a redolent pile of crisp and salty chips and beside them, a small silver bowl of oil cured olives.

I take a sip.  “Kentucky’s finest, with hints of horseshit and a finish of blue grass.”

Leo shakes his head sadly.  “When it comes to culture, you’re a lost cause.”

“I was just teasing.  There’s not even a hint of horseshit in this Jim Beam.  It’s the regular kind, not the funny label kind, with hints of this and that.  It’s to drink, not to chat about.”

“Well, you do know your whiskey.”

We banter on for a while.  Recent trips.  Women, of which neither of us have a soup├žon of understanding.  Leo’s been married twice, with a matching number of divorces and I am girlfriendless.

Leo breaks the ice.  “So Jack, what the hell kind of trouble are you in now?”  He holds up a hand and slowly shakes his head. “Don’t tell me,” he says in a tired voice.  “Let me guess. It has something to do with those we used to call ‘the mob,’ but now refer to as crime without borders.”  He shakes his head again.  “Didn’t you learn anything from my bad example?”

I’m going to have to explain all of it, but I follow Leo’s lead and leave out the specifics, at least at first.  Leo is one of those guys who can empty your bag of marbles with just one pull of a thread. That’s why he thrives in the information business.  I heave a sigh, while Leo downs a full swallow of ripe plums with a leathery finish.  My drawstring pouch of scurrilous information begs to overflow, but I do my best to keep the cord cinched.  The oracle of unsavory knowledge is sitting right in front of me.  He’s been time tested through the pain of disbarment and knows to keep his mouth shut, if you pay him well.  There’s the rub. Leo and I have exchanged a lot of things, but money isn’t one of them.

“What do you know about Harry Simpson?”

The mug is halfway to his mouth and he sees it’s empty.  He raises two fingers to signal for another before he answers.  “Who’s Harry Simpson?”  His look tells me this is an honest question, possibly the only honesty I’ll find this afternoon.

Enjoy the excerpt?  Find the book on Amazon:  Maybe Murder

And enjoy my other two novels, including the first adventures of Jack Hudson:  Lowdown. Dirty. Shame.


All three are on Amazon, in both Kindle and Paperback editions.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Dickens on Centre Street









Dickens on Centre Street

Fernandina Beach, Florida is the biggest city on Amelia Island and seems to offer one festival after another.  There’s the Concours d’Elegance (March 5-8, 2020), and the Shrimp Festival (May 1-3, 2020) and then comes the  Christmas season.  For a week, the historic city of Fernandina Beach goes literary and steps back into the time of Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870), the most celebrated novelist of the Victorian Age. 

During the week of Dickens on Centre Street, costumed characters stroll the sidewalks and streets blocked off for pedestrians.  Vendors are often costumed, too, selling everything imaginable.  I learned first hand that with a slight chill in the air, hot chocolate is a wonderful warmer!




As night descended, you suddenly passed with men in top hats and beards and ladies in hoop skirts.  It really was like stepping back in time.




And it’s not just Dickens’ characters and not just Victorian!  I saw a beautiful Mary Poppins and a soot-faced chimney sweep, Bert, carrying a ladder.  We all remember the Disney film, staring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke, but did you know Pamela Lyndon Travers (1899-1996) wrote dozens of Mary Poppins books?



It was all there on Centre Street!  And a snow bearded Santa Claus.  And musical entertainment that along with the booths of goodies and enticements, stretched down street after street, almost to the harbor.  Picture the romance of darkly silhouetted shrimp boats, framed by an orange sky. 








Fernandina Beach is a beautiful little city unblemished by time and still as gracious as any city in the south.  The old brick buildings and tall clapboard mansions stand proudly.  The Dickens on Centre Street festival is a wonderful, yearly accompaniment. 




 As you may know, Dickens is remembered for such titles as David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and especially this time of year for his famous novella, A Christmas Carol.  Who hasn’t heard of Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit , Ebenezer Scrooge, and of course the ghosts of the past, present, and future!

Charles John Huffam Dickens
Some things you may not know about Charles Dickens:  He left school to go to work when his father was sent to debtors prison, so he never had a formal education.  Nevertheless, he published 15 novels and several novellas. Most of his novels were serialized in weekly, or monthly publications.  When he got comments from readers, he frequently made changes before the next serialized chapter came out.

Yes, he was a writer of the genius variety and would have felt right at home in Fernandina Beach during his namesake week.









Thursday, December 5, 2019

Slowly Do I Wake




Slowly slowly do I wake, sunlight in my eyes
Awash with glassy daydreams, alive with wispy sighs.
Shall I amuse with tales today of travels in the mist,
Or relive my vanished youth of girls I longed to kiss?

Or plan a garden, busy green, adored with April flowers,
Or splash some color with a brush and while away the hours?
Perhaps I'll read a thrilling book and fly from page to page,
Discover lands I never knew and dance upon life's stage.

Beauty beauty everywhere and I can sleep no more.
I must arise, abandon sleep, adventures to explore.
My morning swirls in fantasy, flooding through my mind
A day to treasure happily the pleasures that I find.

My every day begins anew, with each new sunny blast,
A change to silent yesterday before today is cast.
No need to brood or scoff, or step aside the fray
For until tomorrow's dawn, my future is today.








Friday, November 29, 2019

Naples and the Best Pizza Ever!






                            Naples and the Best Pizza Ever!

When you wander the streets of Naples, you never know what’s going to turn up.  Not saying you should take a pass on such historic sites, as Pompeii and Herculaneum.  And as all three of my faithful readers know, I’ve written about both. 



BUT, neither should you neglect a stroll through both the wide avenues and narrow alleys.   On a recent trip, we stopped for a gelato in Naples’s famous Galleria, a palace of a place in the heart of the shopping area. 





Not quite true.  I had a gelato.  My companion had a chocolate martini.   There-in lies one of the glories of Europe.  Sit down at a wonderful gelato parlor and sip a chocolate martini and nobody bats an eye nor offers a discouraging glance.  Europeans view alcoholic beverages as savory delights to make the afternoon sparkle.  Americans often view them as a shameful participation in a mind-altering dance with Satan and all his henchmen.

In fact, Americans tend to be more guilt-ridden in general.  But, we were in Italy, so sinfulness took to the wing and bothered us not at all, while I gobbled gelato and my companion cheerfully sipped her delightful gift from the twin gods of chocolate and alcohol.

After that it was more strolling and a bit of shopping and staring at the artistic and architectural features of this grand city.

By mid afternoon, hunger raged within us.  We left the major areas and turned down a narrow street filled with neighborhood shops of every sort.  Hardware shops with windows filled with power tools, and electrical shops that had flashing light bulbs, and household shops packed with brooms and buckets spilling out onto the street. We were no longer in downtown Tourist-ville.




As we walked uphill, a very thin man approached us sporting old shorts, a loose shirt, a straw teardown hat, a five-day stubble, and carrying a menu.  He suggested vociferously that we eat at his friend’s restaurant.  Well, why not?  So we followed him up a block and turned a corner onto an even narrower street.  On the corner was a tiny place, with three tables on a fenced-in porch.  We were barely separated from the well-worn and well-traveled street.

The thin man disappeared and a waiter suddenly appeared.  His name was Vincenzo, which was a good start.   So Italian!  V stood about five feet tall, had a beautiful smile and welcomed us in perfect English.

“So, Vincenzo, where did you learn to speak English?”

“I lived in Miami for six years.”  Immediately followed by,  “May I offer you a little something to start and perhaps a bottle of wine?”

Knowing nothing about native Neapolitan wines, we went with Vincenzo’s suggestion.  First sip of this white wine made me think I’d made an error. Then the appetizer arrived, small plates of pasta, dressed simply with chips of roasted tomato and bits of garlic.  Delicious!  And what was more, the wine was a perfect accompaniment!




What would we think about some fresh sardines?  Hey, bring ‘em on!  V walked the five paces across the street to the neighborhood fishmonger’s.  From our table we watched the fresh catch transfer from fishmonger to Vincenzo.  




Within ten minutes we had freshly fried sardines in front of us, with a simple pizza margarita and more pasta on the way.  If you haven’t tried them, freshly fried sardines, with a squeeze of ripe lemon are crunchily delicious. You eat them head and bones included.



As soon as we’d finished, Vincenzo arrived almost immediately with the rest of our meal.  The pasta was similar to the appetizer and also just as delicious.  BUT, the pizza was the star of the show!  Naples is known as the home of pizza, so we expected a very good pie, but this was better than good…far better, with only four ingredients on top of the crispy edged crust…. fresh tomato sauce, cheese, basil leaves and a light olive oil.  Simple is often best and it was the best pizza either of us had ever tasted.  No other pizza, before or after has come close to the delicacy Vincenzo brought us.




For one thing, fresh ingredients are always better and with fresh tomatoes, there’s no need to add dried herbs, or garlic, or anything else.  For another thing, only a stone oven, with the pizza in the middle, surrounded by a hot wood fire, brings out the best of a hand made crust.  By design, the dough is baked unevenly, just barely done in the center, but charred on the edges.  You simply cannot duplicate this in a conventional oven any more than you can duplicate pit barbeque without the pit.

Some months later, I still think about that pizza with reverence and passion. 

So, I hope you’ve learned my lesson:  Walk the back streets, listen to the thin man in shorts, and when the Italian waiter selects your wine, go with it!  And, if you’re in Naples, don’t be afraid to sip a chocolate martini for breakfast and later stop in at a tiny restaurant that serves pizza!