26 April 2008
A change in Environment
Travel can be transforming. On Tuesday I wore my coat and shivered on my way into the house where I warmed myself by the fireplace while I drank hot tea. The day was cool and the evening was cold. There was snow in the hills nearby. It was hard to believe spring officially arrived a full month ago.
By Wednesday evening I was in Paducah, Kentuky. Since arriving in Paducah I can walk outside bare armed and wearing sandals. In the Lowertown Arts District I have been comfortable taking my time as I walk from Gallery to Artist’s Workshop to Coffeehouse. The Southern charm is evident in the easy pace, the friendly banter and the area’s historic architecture. Though the town is busy with its annual quilt show, which attracts thousands of visitors each year, the people here are friendly and smiling, eager to talk about where you are from and what you are doing in town. And, while the quilt show venues are crowded with curious guests, tour groups and quilters, the hosts remain talkative, cheerful and down-home southern friendly.
The days have been comfortably, blissfully warm, and the evenings are quite pleasant. I went on the Lowertown Tour of Homes in the Arts District for the evening and strolled from house to house in the warm dusk and darkness, along with quilt show winners, tourists and Paducah residents. I saw some gorgeous painstakingly renovated historic homes and new homes built to blend with the traditional southern architecture of the district. I met proud residents and enjoyed their company as they told me about their vision for their homes, their innovative ideas and the challenges of seeing such ambitious projects to completion. I even lingered outside in the darkness to enjoy the stars in the clear night sky and as I leisurely traced the big dipper with my eyes I saw a lightening bug flicker its small charmed glow as it flew into a nearby tree.
I have appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Paducah as I enjoy Quilt Show events as well as the galleries, shops and architecture in the Lowertown Arts District, the waterfront and downtown area and even the beauty of the dogwoods and azaleas in full bloom and artfully illuminated in the evening darkness in the yards of local residents along the Dogwood Trail that is woven through this charming town.
Lowertown Arts District
I have also enjoyed the food here. We stopped several times for coffee at Etcetera, a casually charming coffee shop that was featured on the Tour of Homes. This coffeehouse offers coffee drinks, Bubble Teas and other drinks and snacks. I ordered a Spanish Latte. Made with sweetened condensed milk to add a rich note of sweetness, it was smooth and delicious.
When I asked about the mystery latte featured on their Light Bright board at the front entrance, they told me that they have a new way of making iced lattes. They mix the drink with ice, add foam from steamed and frothed milk to the top, for a hint of sweetness, then pour the espresso over the top to complete their presentation.
I also took my time visiting the artist’s galleries and workshops. I met artist Nancy Calcutt at her studio on Madison Street. I also met Paulette Mentor of Mentor House Gallery, Carol Gabany at The Egg and I, Freda Fairchild at Studio Miska and William MacKay at Stornoway House Gallery. Every artist was glad to stop what they were doing to tell me about their art, the process involved and to answer my naïve questions. I was truly impressed with the way they generously shared information about their art, their business and their hopes for the future. It was amazing! I walked on, inspired and ready for lunch.
Down 6th Street is a pretty restored house with a large cow decorating the front balcony and an interesting history. It houses The Stranded Cow, a cute restaurant and gift shop. I walked up the steps and across the wide front porch to the entry where a variety of jewelry and other items were for sale. There were also a number of cows adorning shelves, desk and floor. When I was seated I noticed more cows, depicted in a wide variety of artistic styles, were hung on the walls and decorating the tables.
I was given a regular menu and a list of Quilt Week specials. I ordered Cowhouse Tea to drink, a pretty and refreshing blend of green tea with cranberry and pomegranate juice and a splash of lime. I ordered Homemade Meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It looked good and tasted great.
The best part, however, was dessert. I sat right beside the counter where the desserts were displayed. From my chair I had a clear view of a densely chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, and a white cake with blueberry filling and a ethereal flaky garnish that was so beautiful it made me wish I liked coconut.
Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce
When it came down to making a choice I ordered Fresh Baked Bread Pudding topped with Whiskey Sauce and a swirl of whipped cream. It was delicious! The texture was comforting to dig into, smooth and rich and dense. The bread, while saturated and creamy, was still substantial. The fruit was plump and juicy and the whiskey sauce had a warmly assertive taste but was not overpowering.
My lunch was utterly satisfying! It quenched my thirst, filled my stomach and delighted my palate in an atmosphere that was pleasantly comforting, interesting, cheerful and refreshing. It whispered of warm breezes, screen doors springing closed, and languid afternoons in deep southern shade. I left the restaurant feeling happy and refreshed.
This morning I stopped by the Stranded Cow again to look at some jewelry made by the owner, Grace Clemency. She invited me to try on necklaces while she showed my husband pictures of the house before its restoration. It has been a big project and a labor of love. While we were there I also asked her how she made the Whiskey Sauce that topped the Bread Pudding I enjoyed the day before. I had been thinking about it on and off since we left the restaurant. She gave me a few hints.
I hope to try making bread pudding as soon as I get home. (I have posted the results under Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce.) Meanwhile this recipe for Bread Pudding at Simply Recipes looks like a delicious place to start. I am not that fond of raisins and so I would mix or replace the raisins with dried cranberries. To give the dish a milder whiskey flavor you might want to soak the dried fruit in juice instead of whiskey. And Grace, the owner of the Stranded Cow, shared the ingredients in her whiskey sauce with me. She recommended using one stick of butter, three cups of powdered sugar and 1/2 cup of Jack Daniels. That would also pack a somewhat lighter whiskey punch as suggested at Simply Recipes.