PLAINS, Ga. - Former President Jimmy Carter emerges from a black SUV and walks toward the front door of his home, lugging a laptop in one hand and a small suitcase in the other.
Dressed in a dark suit, the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner has just returned from London, where he briefed diplomats from the U.S., Russia, European Union and United Nations on his observations of the situation in Israel. He had personally monitored last month's stunning Palestinian election of the militant group Hamas.
Since leaving the White House in 1981, Mr. Carter has traveled the world to promote peace and human rights, to monitor elections and fight diseases, but he has always found time to promote his hometown of Plains and his boyhood home in nearby Archery.
People far younger than the 81-year-old would have to collapse in a recliner after a long trans-Atlantic flight, but this evening he was keeping a commitment that would help promote his small hometown.
Mr. Carter disappeared in a back room for a few minutes and returned wearing his familiar jeans and plaid shirt to take part in a televised cooking show with Savannah restaurateur Paula Deen - the second time they have teamed up for an episode of her highly rated Food Network television show, Paula's Home Cooking.
While they prepared smothered baked quail, grits, English peas and a pastry dessert of pecan toffee tassies in Mr. Carter's narrow kitchen, they discussed Southern staples.
Mr. Carter said his family ate the servants' food most of the time they lived in the White House "because they were from the South and they knew good food."
While many rural towns are struggling for survival, Plains is thriving, largely because of Mr. Carter's continuing efforts to promote the town to tourists.
On the day of the Food Network taping, there were cars from New York, Florida, Virginia and Nebraska parked along main street, which features a trading post, an antique store, a cafe and Bobby Salter's Plain Peanut, a store featuring souvenirs, peanuts and pecans, locally made candies and even peanut butter ice cream.
When he's in town, Mr. Carter teaches Sunday school classes at Maranatha Baptist Church. Those classes attract between 200 and 800 people each Sunday.
Mr. Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, also were part of a hometown effort to establish the Plains Historic Inn & Antique Mall on Main Street.
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