in hot pursuit of mud bugs

Biscuit with blackberry jam at the Loveless Cafe in Nashville

This story begins with biscuits and blackberry jam, and then eggs and bacon and sausage and hash brown casserole,

eggs, bacon, gravy, sausage, and hash brown casserole at the Loveless Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee

all at the Loveless Cafe, which I cannot recommend unless you are with a friend so wonderful it almost doesn’t matter where you go on a food road trip.

Loveless Cafe sign in Nashville, Tennesee

In the drizzling rain, I drove from seeing old friends Michaela, Stewart, and Michael who live in Nashville to Jackson, Mississippi, where I picked my friend Laura up from the train station, and we drove off the mapped roads onto a gravel one,

the gravel road driveway

that led us to dogs, and an annual family reunion that we secured an invite to, showing up just in time for fiery conch salad from the Bahamas (the most wonderful people from the Bahamas bring it to the event every year), and a little later, a pig that had been roasting for 48 hours.

Dogs to greet us at the Crawfish Boil

For this occasion, many of the extended family sleep in little tent rows dotting the back yard of the five-acre propery,

row of tents

lined with magnolias and near a grove of two hundred acres of uncut forest.

magnolia

The next morning began my first Crawfish Boil, and a stunning sequence of food throughout the day started with biscuits and savory country ham that is colloquially spread with jam.

day begins with biscuits and ham and sausage (the ham is never sweet)

Out back, everyone was looking into three kiddie pools,

Checking on the crawfish

where 335 pounds of crawfish were doing the wave as they danced and were watered into the afternoon.

spraying the crawfish

Our friend Yann’s dad Alan wielded the Cajun Crawfish Paddle with skill, letting the initial boil brew simmer and reduce,

adding salt to one, the Cajun Crawfish Paddle in the other pot

as the guys shucked ears of corn ready for the enormous pots.

shucking corn for the pots

shucked corn

There was time for playful crawfish racing,

FEAR ME

to admire Laura’s new battle scar from an old bike injury surgery,

Laura showing off a battle wound (not from the crawfish)

and in a flush of excitement, everyone followed the first batch of crawfish onto the table earlier than usual,

Pouring the first batch on the table

where they were covered with newspaper and allowed to steam and rest briefly.

all covered with newspaper (to rest)

Yann’s brother Ky taught me the correct technique for eating them: loosen the tail, pull it off, push the meat up, dip it in Tony’s (saltier) or Old Bay (less salty) and then – “Don’t cheat,” he admonished – crush and suck the head juices.

crawfish boil (marking your cup with an X)

It is incredible experience, as everyone is drawn to the table, eating their fill and laughing and wandering away, only to return for a later batch.

around the table

Pictures were taken on all kinds of cameras,

crawfish boil

and bubbles filled the long driveway,

bubbles

stories were told around the fire,

around the fire

and our friend Yann was one of the last at the table, as the Captain of Team Peel (completely peeling the remainder of the crawfish to bag and use later as opposed to my team of tail poppers, also known as Team Progress).

Thanks, Yann, for letting me be an honorary member of your amazing extended family. And thanks to Laura for getting me into yet another adventure.

Yann (Captain of Team Peel)

The music started as the crawfish were sealed into containers and continued into the night, with spoons and drums,

and an accomplished singer-songwriter serenading everyone crowded into the kitchen in a moment too perfect to record.

I realize it was my first, but damn, are Yann’s parents Sandi and Alan ever the lovely hosts, and my, but is a boil a perfect way to bring family together to stand beside each other at a table…

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