Day #47 – Happy Birthday, Dear George!

LOCATION:  Near Bastrop, Louisiana in north central Louisiana, almost on the Arkansas border
CAMPGROUND:  Chemin -a-Haut State Park.  Another great Louisiana state park.  Full hook-ups, level and long site with fire pit, stand-up grill, picnic table, and tent site.  Wifi.  Sites are well-spaced out with lots of trees.  Squeaky clean bathrooms and showers.  Laundry and library.  On a lake, but not visible from camping area.  $18/night.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Beautiful.  Sunny.  High 80
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  1.5 hours

We hung out at Lake D’Arbonne as we weren’t in a hurry to move on.  We hiked some more of the trails there.  The workers have chopped up and moved some logs from trails and roads, but there are still many more to work on.  It was interesting to see how the tornado hopped around, sparing some areas, but absolutely devastating others. 

We made several detours around trees blocking our path. Not bad for a now 76-year-old!

These upended tree roots are massive.

They are building some tents for campers.  They are very nice, but are deep in the woods…Campers would have to haul in water and all their supplies for quite a long distance.

We drove a bit east and north to our final Louisiana destination.  It is very remote, but we do get some TV and a tiny bit of cell service.  We are not going to unhook as there is nothing around here to visit.  While we are here, we will hike and maybe rent a kayak.

Now to celebrate George’s 76th birthday!  I made some Aperol Spritzes that we discovered in Venice.  They are made with aperol, champagne, and a little fizzy water.  Quite refreshing!

George made a fire and grilled some chicken that I had marinated in a garlic and harissa paste –  a tip from our friends the Glanvilles with whom we camped earlier this trip.

DINNER:  In addition to the chicken thighs, I had George char some butternut squash (previously baked) and an onion half.  Then, I followed the recipe on the vegetable “better than bouillon” jar to make a sauce for the veggies.   It was quite good – made with the bouillion paste, balsamic vinegar, parmesan, and olive oil.  Another side was mushroom risotto.  We paired it with the champagne left from the spritzes. 

We watched my buddy Rick Steves’ Monday night podcast about European travel. 

Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday! 

Day #46…In sportsmen’s paradise

LOCATION:  Farmerville, Louisiana in North Central part of state
CAMPGROUND:  2nd night at Lake D’Arbonne State Park
WEATHER:  Just great.  Sunny.  High 75

We listened to a symphony during the night – coyotes howling, owls hooting, and a strange yowl that George says was raccoons.

We enjoyed our regular Sunday morning routine — While watching CBS Sunday Morning, George made his Sunday morning eggs and grits. Yummy as always

This part of Louisiana is called “Sportsmen’s Paradise”.  It is sparsely populated and is full of lakes.  Fishing and camping are popular.  There were a few fishing boats on the lake.  This is the view from our front door…

We took a hike around the campground.  From one of the piers, we spotted a lot of turtles sunning themselves on logs.

Here I am waving to George – from one pier to the next.

It is very green here!

Being Sunday, most of the other campers left.   About 10 campsites (out of 100+) remain occupied.  Nice and quiet.

While I did some cleaning jobs, George chopped up wood that he had scrounged from some new construction in the park.

I took a walk by myself to get some more exercise, taking the main park road to a different section of the park.  It is hilly here!  I was checking out the destroyed visitor center (now just a huge hole in the ground) when a lady and child popped out of the woods.  They had taken a trail and were lost.  They invited me to join them on the trail (versus the paved road) back to the campground.  The lady is very “southern”.  When she talked with me, every other word was “yes, ma’am”. When the daughter forgot to add “yes, ma’am” to a response, she reminded her.    It was a little annoying – very Southern. 

DINNER:  Cassoulet.  It is made with sausage and white beans.  It is a dish most famous in the section of France where we hope to be going this fall.  The secret is using the best sausage you can find.  Tonight, I used some sausage I found called “garlic sausage” that was very good.  I also added some andouille, since we are in Louisiana.  I had George char the sausage over the fire before I added it to the casserole.  Very tasty! 

Day #45 – Camping after tornado destruction

LOCATION:  Farmerville, Louisiana in North Central part of state
CAMPGROUND:  Lake D’Arbonne State Park.  Beautiful, woodsy park on huge lake.  Full hook-ups.  Clean bathrooms/showers/laundry.  Good wifi.  Good phone and TV (PBS) reception.  With senior discount, $14/night.  Can’t beat that!  4 stars out of 5. (See below)
WEATHER:  Mostly sunny.  High 68
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  2 hours

It was a dark and stormy night.  Rains pelleted us for hours.  Then the wind howled and howled, with the noise exacerbated by the billowing tarp we had placed over Joy. 

We awoke at the blueberry farm to the crowing of the rooster, and checked out possible damage.  Yay!  The tarp held tight and it did its job – there was no sign of a leak.  The leak must be on the top of the Airstream and the water must be seeping down behind, then under, the refrigerator.  With the tarp on, we kept the water out. 

The owner came by to bid us farewell.  A cute young couple own this blueberry farm.  Then, we drove north and east to another great Louisiana park.  We are hovering in this area for awhile, as the parks are nice and the weather is just about perfect for camping. Our site is near the 15,000+ acre lake…

We were surprised that the campground is only about 25% occupied, even though it is a weekend.  We took a hike on one of the trails…

We learned that a tornado struck the park about a month ago.  There are huge trees down all over the place.  There was a lot of damage.  It completely took out the visitor center and swimming pool.  Huge holes are all that are left. 

They have been busy sawing the trees up.  There are piles everywhere. I would have rated this park a 5, but because of all the damage and clean-up work, it is muddy and (temporarily) unattractive in parts. 

We went in to town, in search of a nice lake-side restaurant/bar to have a drink.  No such thing.  So, we returned to the campground and had a drink at Reids’ Bistro around the fire…

DINNER:  We are still working through the frozen leftovers from the Cajun Fest.  Tonight, I warmed up some gumbo and added more chicken, sausage, and okra to it.  Unfortunately, it made a lot!

BOOK:  “204 Rosewood Lane” by Debbie Macomber.  Kind of a sappy, soap-opera type book that I picked up at a campground library when I needed something to read while offline.  I’ve read a few other of her books – all chronicling the lives of people in a fictitious Washington state town.  2 stars out of 5

Day #44 – Amid the blueberries…

LOCATION:  Ringgold, Louisiana – in northwest part of state
CAMPGROUND:  McCain Family Farm.  Another Harvest Host site; it is a blueberry farm.  We are down a farm lane to the back of their farm, smack dab in the middle of the blueberry bushes.  Enough space for 2 RVs, but we were the only ones there.  Very nice young couple/owners.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Rain forecast, but only started in the early evening.  Mostly cloudy..  High 72
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  2 hours

It was a bit nippy when we woke up at the Harvest Host winery.  Being off-grid (aka boon-docking or dry camping), we try to conserve our battery use.  We have 2 heaters built it to the Airstream – one that uses propane and a heat pump that uses electricity.  We could have used the propane furnace, but that also takes a bit of battery.  So, George bought this propane space heater, one that is safe for indoor use, and connected it to our main propane tank, so we don’t need to buy canisters.  We call it our fireplace!

George does exercises each morning.  Here he is doing some yoga moves before we took off.

I was pleased that the winery has some outdoor toilets.  These are set up for their upcoming concert.

We took back country roads going slightly south and west.  We commented that these back roads allow us to really see the countryside, rather than speed from Point A to Point B on the interstate.  Today we went further afield, as a bridge was washed out and we had to take a detour.  We drove through lots of little towns, mostly with just a house or two as well as at least 2 churches.  People sitting in their front yards and farmers in their fields wave to us as we pass by.  They must be pretty lonely!

Thunderstorms with 100% chance of rain were predicted during the night, so we stopped at a Dollar General store to buy a tarp for Joy.  There are Dollar General stores everywhere!  We read that there are more Dollar General stores in the USA than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined!

It was still early when we arrived in Ringgold, so we stopped at their lovely library to use the internet.  It was popcorn Friday so the librarian invited us to munch on some as we did our computer work.  One lady arrived singing Gospel music joyfully.  We are in the South, y’all!

The blueberry farm owner met us and made sure we got set up ok in their field.  The area we parked in is grassy but we were sure to be near the gravel road in case it is muddy in the AM.  This is a blueberry farm, but it is still too early for blueberries. The bushes are full of them; they will be ready in about a month.  They also sell honey, but are out of that, too. 

Joy is content right in the middle of the farm

We walked around the farm, introducing ourselves to the rooster…

And to the sheep…(including a baby lamb)

And to a cow that thinks it is a sheep

It is all very rustic and charming.

They even have a bathroom!  First class!

The clouds started rolling in during the late afternoon, so we decided to hang the tarp over Joy.  It took us more than an hour as we don’t have a ladder with us, and had a hard time getting the tarp placed between the different vents and A/C on top.  Finally, we got it tied down tightly.

DINNER:  I jazzed up some leftovers from a pasta dish I made the other night with bowtie pasta and sausage.  To that, I added some sauteed onions, mushrooms, and garlic, and then swirled in some leftover ricotta.  I made George eat the whole thing as I didn’t want leftover leftovers! 

Day #43 – Surprise! Louisiana has good wine!

LOCATION:  West Monroe, Louisiana, in north central part of state
CAMPGROUND:  Landry Vineyards – a Harvest Host vineyard and winery.  Perfect set-up for RVs.  Four of us tonight lined up near the vineyards.  Beautiful tasting room.  Outdoor bathrooms.  🙂 
5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Very nice.  Mostly sunny.  High 70
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  2 hours

We putzed around at the state park campground, since we didn’t have a long drive today.  George worked on the rear-view camera as it gets fogged up all the time.  He took it apart, dried it out with my hair dryer, and then re-sealed it.  Let’s hope it stays clear! 

We took an alternate route to avoid Interstate 20.  The flowers along the roadside are pretty.  I don’t know what these are…

These spider lilies must like the wet soil as we see them a lot in water-filled ditches

The owner of the winery greeted us and led us to the parking space in his golf cart.  Very nice.  He has a success story…..Their home and property near New Orleans got wiped out in Hurricane Katrina.  They decided to invest in this part of the state and developed the vineyards, then the winery.  It is a big, successful operation. 

They have huge events on most Saturdays. Bands set up in this pavilion…

They told us that 800-1200 people come to listen to the music and drink wine.  People set up all up and down these hills. 

We did a wine-tasting and chatted with the other RVer.  He grew up in this area.  He says people in the city use this winery venue for events, like his class reunion.  It is nice that people support it. 

We enjoyed the tasting; the wines we tasted were especially good.  We bought a few bottles plus a bottle of their port. 

DINNER:  We try to do at least one meatless dish a week.  I had some farro (an ancient grain like rice but nuttier) to use up and found this recipe.  We think it turned out great!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH FARRO BAKE (Serves 12 – I cut the recipe to make enough for 4)

3 cups uncooked farro
1 T olive oil
1.5 pound butternut squash, cut in small chunks
2 cups diced red bell pepper
2 T chopped garlic
2 cup thinly sliced shallots
5 T chopped fresh sage
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
10 oz baby spinach or kale
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 T grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup shredded Gruyere
1 cup toasted, chopped walnuts
1/4 cup grated pecorino Romano

I modified the recipe a bit….I split the squash in half and partially baked it – mostly to soften it up.  I peeled the skin off, and saved half of it for another recipe.  Meanwhile, I cooked the farro.  Depending on whether you use whole or partially hulled farro, cooking time will vary.  Cook according to your package directions.   

In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil.  Add the partially cooked squash cubes, shallots, bell pepper, and garlic.  Cook about 5 minutes.  Add the cayenne and half of the sage.  Cook another 2-3 minutes.  Add spinach (or kale) and cook until wilted.  Add squash mixture to farro.  Toss to combine.  Stir in broth, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and Gruyere.  Spoon the mixture into a casserole dish.

In a small bowl, combine walnuts, pecorino, and remaining sage.  Sprinkle over the farro mixture.  Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 15 minutes.  Remove foil and cook another 5 minutes until topping is browned.

When I went shopping for this meal, I was in a small country grocery store and some of the ingredients were not available…..  I had to substitute green bell pepper for the red bell pepper.  The curly kale looked nice so I bought that instead of sorry-looking spinach.  They didn’t sell fresh herbs, so I used dry sage instead.  When I asked the clerk for assistance in the store, she had never heard of Gruyere, so I substituted Fontina.  I’m sure Gruyere would have been better.  Nor did they have any pecorino Romano so I used Parmesan.

Although I cut back on the farro, bell pepper, and squash, I used an entire bunch of kale, as well as  a lot of shallots and garlic.   I had some bread crumbs to use up, so I added them to the walnut/pecorino topping.   

We paired this with a dry Rose’ that we bought at the winery this afternoon.  Very nice!

BOOK:  “Lewis Man” by Peter May.  This is 2nd in a murder/detective series.  The characters are interesting, and it takes place on the remote Isle of Lewis which makes it unique.  5 stars out of 5

Day #42 – Civil War History Day

LOCATION:  Delhi, Louisiana in Northeast part of state
CAMPGROUND:  3rd night at Poverty Point Reservoir State Park
WEATHER:  Sunny.  Turned cooler – High 60

Today was a trip to historic Vicksburg, Mississippi, on the Mississippi River.  It is famous for its Civil War battle/siege.  We crossed over the river from Louisiana…

First up was lunch.  We found a great place for some local food in the historic section, right on the River.  We had their specialty – fried green tomatoes with a hollandaise sauce and crab meat.  We shared this plate, but the guy next to us ate the whole thing himself PLUS a huge oyster po’boy sandwich and fries.  I heard the waitress order – “blackened shrimp, fries, and cheese grits”.  We are in the South, y’all.

We did the self-guided 16-mile driving tour around the Battlefield National Park.  Normally it costs $20, but with Covid, the visitors’ center and ticket office were closed, so you just enter and drive around.  The drive first takes you on “Union Avenue” where you see monument after monument recognizing infantries from various Northern states.  This one was to honor troops from Iowa.

There must be more than 1000 of these monuments.  Also, signs pointing out different battle lines.  We listened to a narrative describing at each tour stop that explained each battle – which side took which battle or hill.

We continued on through “Confederate Avenue” with monuments honoring the Southern state troops.  This is an example – one honoring Louisiana.  . It was a 6-month battle with lots of casualties and harm to the city of Vicksburg itself.  In the end, the North won. 

We drove back across the Mississippi, spotting this big barge….

Back home, George went foraging.  He picked me some wild flowers for a vase on the dining room table (nice), and some wild asparagus and wild green onions for dinner.  We grilled the very delicate asparagus for about 5 seconds, then enjoyed them as an appetizer.  I added the green onions to tonight’s dinner.  Very fragrant.

DINNER:  Grilled chicken.  This is a trick I learned a while ago….I save the juice from kalamata olives and use it as a marinade.  Side was tagliatelle pasta with an onion/mushroom cream sauce.  Also, another night of fresh, steamed green beans.  (The bag I bought is lasting a long time!) 

Day #41. Exploring Indian mounds

LOCATION:  Delhi, Louisiana – in Northeast part of state.  Not far from Mississippi
CAMPGROUND:  2nd night at Poverty Point Reservoir State Park
WEATHER:  Another gorgeous day.  Sunny.  High 76

George decided to see if he could find the source of our leak. He moved the truck parallel to Joy, then precariously set up the step stool on top of the back of the truck in order to climb up.   I could hardly watch.  He could not find any place where the rain could be coming in.  Hmmnn

We visited the World Heritage site of Poverty Point, about 15 miles from our campground.  It is North America’s largest hunter-gatherer site from about 1700 BC. 

We took the self-guided driving tour, visiting several of their big mounds.  Archaeologists don’t know how they used the mounds, but they are not burial mounds.  We climbed this one that was designed in the shape of a bird.

This is the view from the top.  They had to move about 150 million tons of earth to build these mounds, using small bags.  An amazing feat!

Based on their artifact findings, archaeologists think they were a very advanced civilization.  These circles (reminded me of Stonehenge) are where they found huge holes where poles had stood for some ceremony.

I asked where the name Poverty Point came from. It doesn’t have anything to do with the Indian mounds. In the 1800s, a European settler had a plantation here that went bust.

Our state park owns a nice golf course and marina, in addition to the campground.  We decided to check out the golf course’s bistro for a drink and to use their wifi. 

DINNER:  On the stand-up grill, George made a nice fire and grilled the last of the frozen tuna (the free steaks that a fisherman gave us from the Gulf a few weeks ago).  I made a wasabi/soy sauce to drizzle on them.  Sides were ramen noodles and carrot sunomono. (Sunomono means vinegared foods in Japanese.  They are common side dishes.)  I made this by cutting carrots in tiny matchstick pieces and marinating them all day in a sauce made with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and a bit of sugar.  I sprinkled sesame seeds on top to serve.   We had a glass of sake to pair with the meal. As they say in Japanese…Ooishii! 

Day #40 – Loving Louisiana State Parks!

LOCATION:  Delhi, Louisiana (not India!)  About 1 hour west of Vicksburg, Mississippi in Northeast Louisiana. 
CAMPGROUND:  Poverty Point Reservoir State Park.  These Louisiana state parks keep getting better and better.  This one is situated on a beautiful lake/reservoir with a beach and fishing pier.  Cabins and lodges for rent, too.  Water and electricity at sites.  Sites are paved, level, and long.  Squeaky-clean bathrooms with laundry. Fire pit, stand-up grill, and picnic tables.  Sites are very spaced out.  We have the place almost to ourselves.  And the best part…..with our senior discount…$14/night.  5 stars out of 5
WEATHER:  Perfect for camping.  Mostly sunny.  High 72
DISTANCE DRIVEN:  1.5 hours

We just had a short drive between state parks today.  We stuck around Lake Bruin, taking our time  packing up.

We followed the Great River Road for most of the trip.  Unlike most Louisiana secondary roads, it has a shoulder, and doesn’t just drop down into a deep water-filled ditch…Thank goodness – as we encountered 5 houses being moved and 4 huge pieces of farm machinery.  They took up both lanes and I had to squeeze way over on the shoulder.  What is it with moving houses here? 

After getting set up, we went in to town to find a grocery.  (They are hard to come by in this part of the country).  We stocked up, as we don’t know when the next one will be.  People are very non-compliant with mask-wearing here.  The sign on the grocery store said that masks were required.  All the staff were wearing masks, although some were being used more like chin decorations.  Only about 25% of the customers were wearing them. 

Back at the campground, we took a hike on some of the trails.  This is the first time in a while that we have been able to do this, as trails have been flooded  or muddy.  These bear signs are all over!  But…we didn’t encounter any.

We drove around the park. In addition to the RV section, there are several lodges and cabins. These cabins appeal to fishermen who can tie their boat to their private dock.

DINNER:  I revived some of the frozen leftover jambalaya by adding sauteed onion, garlic, andouille sausage, and bouillion.  Side was steamed,  fresh green beans.

BOOK:  “Mistress of the Ritz” by Melanie Benjamin.  This is a non-fiction historical novel inspired by a true story of an American woman who married the manager of the Ritz Hotel in Paris, and their lives before and during WWII.  5 stars out of 5

Day #39….What is that big yellow ball in the sky?

LOCATION:  In Northeast Louisiana, south of Vicksburg, MS
CAMPGROUND:  3rd night at Lake Bruin State Park
WEATHER:  Back to the good stuff!  Mostly sunny.  High 72

What is that big yellow ball up in the sky?  Oh!  It is the sun!  It’s been such a long time, that I didn’t recognize it!!!    🙂

Since there aren’t any other campers nearby, we have been sleeping with our curtains open.  This morning, we were awakened by a big ball of welcoming yellow streaming through the windows.  Great!

We had our regular Sunday morning routine….We watched “CBS Sunday Morning” while George made his famous grits and eggs.  This morning, he did a switch….he added some boiled crawfish to the grits. Kind of a twist on shrimp and grits.   Quite tasty!

Today’s “CBS Sunday Morning” show was dedicated to travel, about how people really have the itch to get back to it. They said currently it is mostly  the “grey wave” – meaning we old people that have had the vaccine are the biggest group traveling.  We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to go to France this fall.  The show had an interview with one of my boyfriends – Rick Steves – who talked about how he is getting through a year+ of the pandemic without any traveling.

The sun is shining on Joy, and she is a happy camper, like we are!

I took a nice walk around the campground.  There are a lot of pretty flowers around, including these yellow wild flowers.  There are lots of birds, too – red cardinals, red-headed woodpeckers, and blue birds.  Sounds and looks like spring!

Rain –> standing water + warmer temps = mosquitoes.  They are pretty bad, so we set up our screened tent.  We have been carrying this around for more than 2 years, as sort of an insurance policy.   If we have it, it seems that we don’t need it; when we have it, we don’t need it!  But today, it was great to have.  It took some time to set up as we were out of practice.  We placed it around the picnic table. 

I spent several hours inside the tent happily bug-free, reading a good book.

DINNER:  George got a fire going in the stand-up grill.  All of the recent rain has caused dead tree limbs to fall from trees, so we scrounged a lot of wood to use on the fire.  I had him saute some Italian sausage, onions, and garlic in the iron skillet over the fire  (so I wouldn’t have to do it inside) to make a meat sauce. Then, I made a pasta casserole with the meat sauce, ricotta, and parmesan.  It is nice to have an oven for dishes like this.   Side was steamed broccoli.  A nice change of pace!

Day #38 – Lakeside living, Louisiana-style

LOCATION:  In Northeast Louisiana.  South of Vicksburg, MS
CAMPGROUND:  Lake Bruin State Park – 2nd night
WEATHER:  Cloudy all day.  High 62

We welcomed the day with NO puddles on the floor.  Yay!  The rain has mostly stopped, but it is gloomy. 

There isn’t much out here except the lake.  It is nice and peaceful.  A group of fishermen got out early for a fishing tournament. 

We really like Louisiana state park campgrounds.  They have all been well-kept and with good amenities – either full hook-ups or at least water/electricity.  Great fire pits and stand-up grills.  Sites that are spread out and are paved/level.  Very nice bathrooms.  Wifi. They give us seniors a 50% discount, sweetening the deal.    And…unusual for a state park – laundries.  We were told this reason…..Louisiana experiences a lot of bad weather, including hurricanes.  FEMA brings in temporary housing for displaced people.  When they no longer need the FEMA houses, they take out the washers and dryers and donate them to the state parks.  Brilliant!

I took advantage of the laundry and washed/dried all the wet towels and rags we have been using to mop up from our leak.

Many of the state parks also have “splash pads” which must be popular on a hot, sunny day in the summer…

There is one restaurant in the area so we checked it out for lunch.  It is actually in a gas station/convenience store/bait shop.  We shared a crab cake sandwich on a ciabatta roll (surprisingly good).  George ordered a side of onion rings.  Wow!

We drove around the lake, which is quite large.  It used to be part of the Mississippi River.  There are no commercial businesses around – just houses with private docks. 

We walked around the campground and watched the fishermen do the weigh-in for the tournament.  We had to leave early, though, as the mosquitos/gnats were ferocious.

George built a fire, mostly to make smoke to keep the bugs away. 

DINNER:  When we were at the Cajun Fest, there was a lot of leftover food.  Not wanting it to go to waste, I took plastic containers to each evening meal and filled them up.  Tonight was leftover etouffee to which I added more crawfish and onions.  I see several more Cajun Fest meals in our future!