Around the table in just 12 months

Published 12:44 am Sunday, June 17, 2012

I thought about John Prine this morning first thing when, to paraphrase Prine, a bowl of Shredded Wheat tried to stare me down. And won.

I’ve been on the road for pretty much a year, and that entailed a lot of pigging out along the way. Nothing allays boredom on the road like stopping to eat, or planning the next meal. How can you drive past a brisket joint in Texas when the cook is outside turning ribs on a grill?

Now it is time to pay the piper or buy new clothes, bigger ones. Nothing sumptuous for me for a few weeks. I’m fighting my way back to my fighting weight.

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Yet I don’t regret a single meal from this year of living dangerously. To recall those calories is almost as good as digesting them.

How could I not remember with fondness a giant burrito at Amanda’s Fonda in Old Colorado City? We sat by Fountain Creek in the shadow of Pike’s Peak and watched the mule deer grazing a stone’s throw away. Pass the margarita pitcher.

And I won’t begin my regrets with Jack Dempsey’s in New Orleans, where seafood is fried the way nature intended, and the waitresses are seasoned and hennaed, not pierced and tattooed. They look like their names should be Loretta and Thelma, and they bump doors open with their hips. To them all customers are “Boo” or “Honey,” and they bring extra everything whether you ask for it or not.

Nope, I am not sorry about going there, and I might have to make it back before the Mayan Calendar brings the world to an end.

I did a lot of substantial eating in Falls Church, Va., where my most loyal friend Betty Douglass lives and works. She knows all the good eateries with exotic fare that’s not readily available at the Piggly Wiggly in my hometown. My favorite is an Indian restaurant near her house, where the bread is flat and called nan and melts in your mouth. I’ll dream of it while limiting myself to dry rye.

I spent three weeks in France, and the rabbit in mustard sauce at Chez Denise in Paris is the kind of meal that inspires odes and love sonnets. The night I ate there, about 20 of us crowded around a table meant for six, merrier because we were more, and sampled one another’s meals the way the French always do.

And better yet were those weekly markets in every village in the French countryside, their streets for a few hours magically filled with cheese and baguettes and pastries beneath a sea of umbrellas the color of rainbows. I ate my weight in good bread.

One recent night in Biloxi, Miss., my good friend Tony Salmon threw crawfish and shrimp fresh from the Gulf into a big boiling pot. Then he dumped the pink results onto brown grocery bags spread on his dining-room table. Four of us sat and ate and talked while a heavy rain hammered the roof and Hank Williams sang away pain. That might have been the best meal of all.

They say that dieting only serves to make you hungry, makes you think about food all the time. If that’s the case, and I believe it may be, then at least I’ve a lot of good memories to serve up and savor.

(To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit