Almost Georgia Mustard.

For years I’ve been sporadically making hot sauce for friends and colleagues.  I have some regular customers who give me valuable feedback on my efforts.  They point me in the right direction if they believe there is room for improvement with the flavour or consistency of a sauce.

I love hearing this feedback.  Unfortunately, I go through phases when it comes to hot sauce making.  Often I will go for months without creating anything.

After arriving home from my travels, I decided I was going to have a go at creating some southern inspired sauces.  The first of which, a complete experiment that’s loosely inspired by Georgia mustard, I whipped up this weekend whilst watching Forrest Gump and pining over almost unbearable humidity and the beauty of Savannah.

From my very basic research – and what I experienced while in Georgia – I found that Georgia mustard is very much vinegar based.  I like to use vinegar in my sauces anyway as the vinegar acts as a preservative but this called for quantities the likes of which I had never used before.  Quantities I was also unwilling to use!  Sorry, Georgia, I know I’ve done you wrong on this one, but I’m being very careful not to call it Georgia mustard.  In fact, I’ll retract my whole statement.  This sauce is inspired by the peach state as a whole.

My original point about making sauce for others was a clumsy segue into saying that this sauce was made with one person in mind: me.  I love mustard and I love chillies.  I love sauces with a sweet tang to them.  So with that in mind I grabbed some tinned peaches, some English mustard powder, and the hottest chillies I could find in the supermarket (scotch bonnet chillies are readily available in most supermarkets in the UK and Tesco’s sells “Komodo Dragon” chillies which measure roughly 1 million on the Scoville scale).

I always start my sauces with a holy trinity of celery, bell peppers, and onions.  I then add the rest of my ingredients: garlic, chillies, peaches (and the juice from the tin which turned out to be grape), mustard powder, rice wine vinegar, salt and pepper, honey, and water. I bring this to the boil then cover it and leave it to simmer for half an hour to an hour. I blend it up with a stick blender, add a little more water to get to the consistency I require, then strain it till smooth.

Here is the glorious, golden result:

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As the sauce cooks down I am constantly checking the flavour and balancing it appropriately.

Another reason for wanting to make this sauce is that I simply love hot sauce and I enjoy it with a lot of different foods.  Sometimes a restaurant might not have any hot sauce.  It might be that the restaurant in question just doesn’t feel their food does well with it as an accompaniment.  To this I say ‘Nay! Hot sauce goes on everything!’ (or at least everything savoury).

I will be carrying this sauce around with me with immediate effect.  I know I may look odd but at least my tastebuds and chilli-pangs will be satisfied.

 

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Decisions, Decisions

I’d just turned out the light when I saw the light on my phone was blinking. It was a message from Jess:

“What are you doing? Want to play pool with me, Liz, and Julio?”

I was warm and comfortable in bed. It was almost midnight. I checked the time the message was sent and saw it was sent only two minutes ago. Should I go? Or should I sleep off my lunch and the handful of stouts and porters I’d already drank?

I got dressed and messaged Jess.

They were in a club called The Basement which was underneath another club called The Graveyard. I’d made a point of bringing my passport with me as proof of age as I’d previously been denied a beer when trying to use my driver’s license. The bouncer, a man wider than the doorframe and with an unapproachable demeanour, squinted hard at my passport before letting me in. I bought a beer then went over to the pool table where Jess was lining up a shot.

She scuffed the cue ball sending it off to the side. Julio smiled then took the cue and ended the game.

We played doubles; Jess and Liz Vs Julio and me. It was a close game that we won by default. Julio disappeared and Liz got talking to Jess’s sister. I played against Jess. After a couple of beers I was in that “sweet spot” where my judgement was unclouded. I could make bank shots, carom shots, and sometimes even jump shots. I won but thought at one point I’d been hustled when Jess began making a comeback.

We drove home after first stopping off at Cinnaholic. A custom cinnamon roll restaurant where customers are able to pick any combination of icing and toppings.

I chose peanut butter icing with cookie dough on top. 

Fresh and warm out of the oven, the icing melted into the cinnamon roll, the cookie dough becoming gooey and amalgamated. As a late night snack, it was perfect and was a sugar-filled hug that helped me to crash into bed immediately.

Eating With The Fishes

I’d heard that Georgia Aquarium was supposed to be a great attraction and that I should definitely visit. When I was planning the trip I hadn’t really given it much thought though I do like aquariums; they’re peaceful, calming, and are almost like windows into an alien world.

I arrived not long after opening, going to beat the crowds. The aquarium is divided into ecosystems such oceans, rivers, reefs, etc.

The river enclosure featured a lot of local fish but also a while host of reptiles and amphibians – including a pair of albino alligators. 

It took me a while to realise that there were fish above me. A lot of care had been taken to make sure visitors get a fully immersive experience.

There were a few environments featuring animals of never seen before. Georgia Aquarium is famous for its whale sharks but I hadn’t realised before going that they also cared for beluga whales, manta rays, and bottle nose dolphins.

I stood listening to a presentation about the 4 whale sharks at the aquarium, the amount of water used to fill their enclosure, and the thickness of the “glass” (2ft thick!). Then it was getting time… For the whales, I mean. 

Rope lines are pulled across the surface of the water. 4 boats enter the water with a keeper inside each one, they then drag themselves along the lines dropping krill into the tank for each individual whale shark. This is how they’re able to monitor the amount that each shark eats. For an animal so large – the largest fish in the world – the whale shark has a throat as big as a quarter. This surprised me but I imagine the other fish in the tank welcomed it; if they were accidentally gulped up by the whale shark during feeding, they simply had to swim or if its gills to escape!

Then it was my feeding time. I found a bar and ordered a beer and a pulled pork sandwich. There was a selection of success on the bar to go with it so I chose to go with their spiciest. There were also milder versions, mustard based sauces, and vinegar based sauces. BBQ sauce seemed like a dialect in the South. Everywhere had their own version, some thick, some thin. I think I prefer the thicker, stickier sauces but I also like them with a bit of a kick.

The side of mac n’cheese was well seasoned and obviously had more than one kind of cheese in there – not a bad thing at all. It was stringy and sharp (like an extra mature cheddar), keeping me filled until much, much later in the evening.

Somebody ‘arted’

It was a Saturday of obnoxious humidity. I decided I wanted to see some art and knew Savannah was home to SCAD: the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Opened in the late 1970s, SCAD has become a huge part of Savannah’s ​identity – even going beyond the normal boundaries of a simple art college, SCAD provides security patrols around some neighbourhoods and attracts thousands of tourists every year.

The heat was oppressive and my GPS was having a bit of a crisis connecting to a satellite. It felt like time was frozen in amber or else just restricted by a very thick, sticky jam. Added to this, the streets were incredibly busy as it also happened to be the day that students were graduating from the college in question.

I gave up on GPS and decided to follow the crowds in hope that the graduation venue would be close to the museum.

I got lucky! Across Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard stood the museum. I opened the door and the relief was immediate. Cool air cascaded from above me, drying all perspiration, and giving me a chill. I paid entry fee to the lady behind the counter.

“There are docents in each room, if you have any questions or would like more information, be sure to ask.”

The first gallery was empty of people. Three docents stood talking to each other. I moved from picture to installation to sculpture to picture. There were very few traditional artworks – everything was very provocative and demanded that you try to find meaning.

As I passed from room to room, I realised that my appreciation of art was limited to the literal: show me a dramatic seascape, epic battle scene, or a detailed portrait, and I can understand with little prompting what’s going on.

Show me a dead flamingo on a bar stool with a ball and chain attached, and I’m as lost as a man whose GPS is on the blink. I can appreciate the work that goes into making something like that, but because further meaning is implied by the randomness of the piece itself, my mind gets lazy and switches off.

The meaning might be astounding but because I had to ask, it takes away from the impact. To put it bluntly: to me, sometimes art can seem like a bad joke, if you have to explain it, it loses all its power and the only reaction it can garner after being explained is “oh”.

But that’s genuinely my own ignorance when it comes to what constitutes art. I’m simple and just enjoy a pretty picture.

Later, I took a walk down to River Street where I browsed the smaller galleries. There I found the work of an artist called Chuck Hamilton, who seems to share my love of the film The Big Lebowski. A lot of his work depicts scenes or characters from the movie.

Now that’s art that I can abide.

A Beautiful City with a Dark Past

Savannah has got to be one of the most picturesque cities I’ve ever been to. There’s ​an abundance of greenery and every house or apartment building looks very homely or absurdly opulent.

The city was one of the first in the United States to be arranged on a grid system making it very easy to navigate around. There are 24 squares in Savannah, each lush and green, and lined with benches welcoming anyone to take a break and admire the beauty. Most of the squares also feature a statue dedicated to a historic figure. However, one square features no such statue and there are significantly less benches.

Calhoun Square, as pointed out by my tour guide, Jeff – a young man dressed like a cross between Indiana Jones and Keith Richards – is a lot ‘lumpier’ than most other squares and there is no central focal point dominated by a statue. That’s because the square, and 60ft in all directions of it, is the site of a mass grave for slaves. 

The roots of the enormous trees are comparable to the size of the branches. As these roots develop they stir up the earth and push to the surface whatever is beneath. Sometimes this includes bones. In fact, while installing street lights around the square in 2004, a human skull was found prompting an investigation into whether the skull was historic or whether it was more recent and warranted further investigation by the police. The skull turned out to be historic, providing a reminder of Savannah’s dark past.

Alligator No-Shows

Ben had given up a good job as a civil engineer to pursue his dream of working for himself. He’d decided that the business for him was to run a shuttle been Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.

“You’ve got the bus to yourself today, I hope that’s not a problem?” Ben said as he passed me a bottle of water.  “Saturday is my quiet day. Usually most people are where they want to be by Saturday. Friday and Monday are busy with people going away or coming back.”

The 2 hour journey to Savannah seemed an easy one with barely any traffic. We’d be passed every now and then by a speeding car. 

“We’ll be seeing him again,” Ben said. Not long after, a traffic cop flew past, sirens screaming. Sure enough, we passed the speeding driver as he waited by the roadside, the traffic cop leaning into the passenger-side window.

I asked Ben how long he’d been running the service and how many trips he did in a day. 

“I’ve been doing this for just over a year and I’m still doing the one round trip. It’s about 6 hours of driving a day; it’s all I can manage without losing too​ much concentration. I like driving but I would like to hire someone else eventually. I feel like I’ve got more to offer; there’s more I could take on to help the business side of things. Right now I don’t really do any marketing so it’s all word of mouth – hey, see this area right here, I saw a couple of alligators here a couple of days ago…,”

To our right was a vast swamp that ran from the horizon right up to the side of the road. Ben slowed to the minium speed limit of 45mph. I stared into the dark brown water and amongst the flora but couldn’t see any alligators.

“… None today,” he said and began to speed up again “But I’m getting more customers this year than the same time last year so we’re slowly becoming popular.”

Our journey ended on Hutchinson Island, from there I would need to get a free ferry service across the Savannah River.

“So you know where you’re going once you get across?” Ben asked.

“Near enough,” I said, “I’ve got GPS on my phone so I’ll find it.”

“My kind of traveller. A lot of folks need a little help.  Savannah can be confusing.  After a few days you’ll know the streets pretty well, it was the first city in the US to be built in a grid system so you’ll get to know the main streets and squares. From there you can find anything. Be glad you’re not driving, there are a lot of one-way systems, especially around the squares.”