September 16, 2012

Eggrolls and Arkansas

This week defeated me in terms of posting to Magnolia Cooks. I have a few recipes typed, photos edited, partial texts written, but a new job this week and a long weekend trip to Fort Smith, Arkansas steamrolled all my creative efforts. When I vowed to myself that September would be the beginning of the Fall Challenge I didn't factor in the job start or the absolutely wonderful time I had in Arkansas, despite being a physical witness to the Hogs' most ignominious campus loss in 93 years. But I did remember something about the Fall Challenge - it only requires writing and not necessarily writing and recipes. Of course, recipes are my goal, but after having flown halfway across the country in the late afternoon, I find myself this Sunday night wanting to write about food without supplying a recipe.

Like all good weekends in Fort Smith, our weekend was filled with a melting pot of international cuisine. Fort Smith is one of those mid-south towns that is blessed to have a generous international population and we have never lacked for amazing Mexican, Chinese, and Vietnamese food. This time, we enjoyed spicy tikka masalas at R&R Curry Express, traditional cheeseburgers at George's (which incidentally occupy some of my earliest and tastiest memories), margaritas at La Huerta, and my friend Terry's incredible homemade egg rolls.

Now, I wish I could write a review and provide pristine colorful pictures of these Fort Smith institutions but that may have to wait until Christmas. Back home in North Carolina and thinking about all the food we had in Arkansas, I realize just how diverse are our eating experiences there. And these are humble, unassuming, salt-of-the-earth eating experiences: R&R Curry is in a converted gas station and La Huerta in an old garage and patio. George's is a 4-cornered gray block building that you'd miss if you didn't know what was there (make no mistake: the best burgers and fries in the entire world).

Top that with the fact that my mother is an excellent cook. Homemade granola chilled in the refrigerator all weekend and rich apple spice cake (featured in Magnolia Cooks last December) followed every meal. Creamy chicken spaghetti, homemade yeast rolls, deviled eggs and pickled cucumbers occupied us for Friday's dinner hour. We ate lemony tabouli and fresh chicken salad with apricots for every lunch. And of course, there were Terry's eggrolls. Terry and I have been friends since junior high, played violin together in the school orchestras, and kept our friendship going through academic stints in Europe (me) and Asia (her).  She was a bridesmaid in my wedding and remains a favorite of my family's. During this visit, she made us egg rolls and talked about her parents' astounding journey from Vietnam to Arkansas (which I will surely turn into a book one day). Together with Terry's egg rolls, Mom's consistently delicious home cooking and Fort Smith's diverse restaurant offerings made this trip a delightful eating and social experience.

Going to Arkansas always inspires me to cook, and not just the recipes that I've known all my life. Mom's chicken spaghetti puts any potluck casserole to absolute shame yet freezes easily and warms beautifully for a rich family meal. Snickerdoodles can be chilled and baked just one pan at a time so there are always fresh cookies on hand. And big bowls of chicken salad and tabouli keep a full house of company completely satisfied for several lunches. So these are not just slave-over-the-stove meals. These are clever, expedient, thoughtful ways to present food to company while maximizing social time as much as possible. I'm still figuring out how to do this.

I leave this Sunday night not with thoughts about Southern food per se, but rather thoughts about the diverse South. The authentic international restaurants in Fort Smith are just as part of my Southern experience as any for an Arkansan-turned-North Carolinian. After all, the Fall Challenge is just as much about thinking about food as it is about reiterating recipes. I call that a win!

1 comment:

  1. ETJ! I absolutely loved your post and I feel so lucky to be mentioned. Couldn't agree more with what you said about the international culinary experiences that we shared together in FSM. It brings me much happiness to know that you love my family's egg rolls recipe! I love reading your blog! You've got a loyal reader no matter where I am in the world. ;)