Monday, October 31, 2011

How to knit

You can pull real hard on the yarn, because yarn doesn't feel pain...

(with thanks to the wonderful ladies at Mason Dixon Knitting...)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Food and Drink, NC Style

On my other visits to NC, I primarily ate meals at the motel, partly because there was a restaurant there, partly because I was way too tired after teaching to go searching for food, and partly because I do not drive in strange places. This time around, I had no choice but to venture out because the Mountain Inn and Suites (Airport) did not have a restaurant, and there were none within walking distance. I did not know, going in, that the lack of motel restaurant was the best thing ever to happen to my free time in North Carolina.

Before I get to the good stuff, let me say one word about airport food: bleargh.

I don't know what they're like out in the real world, but the Burger King Breakfast Sausage and Egg Croissant that I bought at MSP was damp, chewy, and flavorless. And overpriced, which goes without saying. And the slice of carrot cake that I tried to eat in ATL was stale and dry, and the frosting tasted like shortening.

From now on, I'll stick with Seattle's Best Coffee (the fancy versions have enough calories for a meal anyway) (or Caribou, or Starbucks- in the airport, they're everywhere and interchangeable), and whatever scones they have in their display cases (which are also not premium, but they're a whole lot better either of the aforementioned food-like substances).

The concession food at SAFF was as expected for a large festival- okay without being great or terrible. But the Goat Milk Fudge from Heather Lane Farms, was wonderful as always- smooth and creamy and udderly delicious (see what I did there?).

Kris, who is much more adventurous than I am, asked our very helpful motel clerk for recommendations for local food. She sent us to Downtown Hendersonville, about a 10 minute drive away (and since I live in South Dakota, I generally correlate 10 minutes with 10 miles. Hah! It was probably 2 miles... and sometimes it took a lot longer than 10 minutes). Anyway, Downtown Hendersonville has several blocks lined with great stores and many many restaurants (the only town I've visited that smelled as/more delicious was Monterrey, CA).

Our first evening in Hendersonville, we walked the blocks, sniffing and reading menus, and finally settled on Lime Leaf, a Thai Fusion restaurant. The restaurant was lovely, soft lighting and quiet music. I had crab fried rice that was absolutely wonderful (and on those first couple of nights, we didn't realize that portions would be so big that Kris and I could split an entree and still not eat it all). It's as though the crab was infused through the rice- there were no large lumps, and yet the crab flavor was dominant throughout. I paired my rice with RJ Rocker's Son of a Peach beer, a light and refreshing beer with a real peach flavor. Kris had a chicken dish, but I can't remember the name- she won't mind my saying that she's a notoriously picky eater, and she loved the meal (she loved every meal we ate together).

The next evening in Hendersonville, we went to Mezzaluna, Brick Oven and Tap House. Again, the restaurant was open and airy, and watching the cooks toss pizza dough was amusing and entertaining. Neither of us had pizza though- I had pan-fried Carolina Trout with asparagus and rice (the best I've ever eaten), and Kris had the Chicken Marsala. We also had the Bruschetta... yummmm. The wine list looked good, but I can have Oregon and Washington and California wines in South Dakota (not to mention in Oregon, Washington, and California). I opted instead for a local beer that would please my son, AKA Hop Head Said- Asheville Brewing Company's Scottish Highland Ale, a darkish beer that went perfectly with my trout.

The most ordinary meal we ate was at the Biltmore Estate, where we shared a flat bread mushroom pizza at an outdoor table. It was really very good paired with Cedric's Brown Ale, which is brewed on the grounds.

 After lunch, we went to the Biltmore Winery and tasted wines. We especially liked the Century White, the Christmas White (which is sweet), and the limited edition Malvasia, which is a dessert wine. I bought a bottle of that and brought it home in my suitcase.

At the suggestion of my dear friend DeeAnn, who was unfortunately not able to meet us in Asheville, we drove to Grove Park Inn after leaving Biltmore. Grove Park is probably a bit newer than Biltmore, but it's every bit as opulent, and maybe a little intimidating. It's a wonderful, huge, Art Deco hotel that has turned into a Destination Visit for many people. We had to park in the hotel garage (no spaces in the parking lot), and we wandered around the hallways a bit before we found our way to the huge, and I do mean HUGE lobby bar and restaurant.

The long lobby is flanked on either end by stone fireplaces that are big enough to stand in, and in fact, one of them houses an elevator. Honestly, the place makes me think of The Overlook, but in a non-haunted way (though it would not surprise me in the least if there were ghosts).
By that evening, Kris and I had finally realized that we could happily split entrees and still have enough to eat. We had the lump crab club and a pineapple martini. It's a good thing that we split the entree, since prices at Grove Park are, shall we say, a little pricey. We sat in the open bar/restaurant on what I can only assume are original Stickley chairs, and ate our wonderful sandwich, and listened to the music, which consisted of a very talented guitar player, whose taste coincided perfectly with mine: anyone who plays James Taylor live (and not just the usual JT hits, but also Copperline), plus some Jimmy Buffet, The Turtles, and many other songs that I sang along to (luckily, it was quite noisy there, so no one else had to hear me) has my eternal gratitude, and a nice tip.

 Also on the recommendation of DeeAnn (and many others), we stopped in at the Tupelo Honey Cafe in downtown Asheville for lunch on our last full day in NC. This restaurant is a real, authentic, Southern Diner, long and narrow, crowded at every minute of the day because the food, quite simply, is the best I've eaten. Anywhere. In my entire life. The chairs and tables are old, and the staff works with and around each other in a fascinating dance- efficient and brisk while at the same time being warm and welcoming to the customers.

The meal started with huge, warm baking powder biscuits and pots of Tupelo Honey and homemade blueberry jam. Then we shared the Chicken Saltimboca- and there are no words for how good it was, paired with a Pisgah Pale Ale.

There are also no words for the pecan pie. I've never tasted anything like it- rich and sweet and so good that we laughed as we ate, not quite believing we were tasting something so incredibly delicious. It's a good thing we split the pie as well- a whole piece would be too much. Half was just perfect. The fact that the pies are shipped worldwide is both wonderful and dismaying.

On our last night, we went back to Hendersonville, to Mrs. G and Me, whose menu intrigued us from the very first night. This lovely little restaurant served interesting and inventive variations of familiar foods. We settled on Chicken and Dumplings (not that it was difficult- we almost opted for that on our first night), and the parsley/garlic dumplings were amazing (and the larger single serving was still too much for the two of us to eat). I had a pomegranate martini with my meal (a bit tart but delicious).

Last, but certainly not least, we stopped in Kilwins Chocolates more than once. Kris liked the cremes and truffles, I loved the Sea Salt Caramels.

Even though most of the meals were reasonably priced, it's still good for our wallets (and jeans) that we had to say goodbye to North Carolina. But I'm going back... believe me, I'm going back.

Friday, October 28, 2011

More North Carolina- the Folk Art Center and the Blue Ridge Parkway

Kris rented a car, which meant that we weren't relying only on the kindness of strangers (who turned into excellent friends) and taxis (which are expensive) and motel shuttles (which were, in the case of our motel, non-existent). Kris also brought her own Garmin, which meant that almost all of the time, we knew where we were going, or at least where we were supposed to turn (except for the evening when the battery died about halfway home, so we had to rely on our own memories as to which exits to take to get back to Hendersonville. It was scary, lemee tellya). That vaguely-digital sounding voice was a great comfort as she repeated *recalculating* over and over (Asheville is confusing, y'all).

But the car and the Garmin, and Kris's bravery in driving unfamiliar roads, meant that we weren't tied to a short leash this time around. We spent one long day at Biltmore (which I love love love) and ate supper at Grove Park Inn (more about which in the Food Post, coming up tomorrow), so on Tuesday, we ventured forth.

 My friend Ann has been trying to get me to visit the Folk Art Center in Asheville since my first trip to North Carolina. I finally did it this time around, and I am so glad I did. The Folk Art Center is run by the Southern Highland Craft Guild. The Folk Art Center is just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, nestled in among the trees and hills. The Gift Shop is full, and I do mean full, of amazing pieces made by local Guild Members. Wood, glass, leather, paper, fabric, glass... weaving, quilting, carving, glass blowing, basketry... jewelry, pottery, ornaments, paintings, prints, clothing... all beautifully made, and all for sale. Kris and I browsed for at least an hour, bemoaning our lack of suitcase room (and funds- these were pieces of art, and priced accordingly). My biggest surprise was that there wasn't a single spindle, or any handspun yarn for sale. Otherwise, all of the handcrafts were amply and beautifully represented.

The upstairs of the center held an amazing quilt display. I am barely an amateur quilter, but I know beauty and technique when I see it. And I saw a lot of it.
 The grounds around the center are lovely too. Kris, who lives in the Pacific Northwest still (in our home town) first noticed the lack of evergreen trees. Even here, in nearly treeless South Dakota, easily 50% of our trees are evergreen. In North Carolina, I would suspect that 99% of the trees were deciduous. We did see this lovely evergreen at the Center- I have no idea what it is, but the ethereal and delicate needles were beautiful.
 I couldn't resist another photo.
 Though the leaves were at least a week past peak, there was still a lot of glorious color.

 So Beautiful.
 Since we were already on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a highway that winds its way along 469 miles of mountain roads in the southern Appalachians in North Carolina and Virginia, we decided to continue on for a bit, just to looky-loo.
 The trees that still held their leaves were amazing. The weather was perfect as well, cloudless skies and 70 degrees. Many motorcyclists agreed with us. The highway hummed with them.
 The visitor center had a wonderful display on the Parkway history. That's where we picked up the brochure. Also the book of postcards.
We decided to head to Craggy Gardens, some 28 miles from the visitor center.  The road was two-lane, narrow and winding, with a sensible 40mph speed limit. For most of the distance, the highway threaded among the trees. Take a peek at the cover of the postcard book- that's exactly what we saw. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and every corner, every bend brought a new and amazing scene to view. Unfortunately, those portions also had no places to pull over for photography, so I have to rely on the cover of the postcard book to show you (for some reason, there is no matching postcard of that scene IN the book).
 However, there were several *viewpoints*, where we were able to pull over and stand overlooking the valleys below. The hillsides were absolutely covered with yellow and orange. And red.
 It was incredibly beautiful.
 We climbed steadily and slowly- the 28 mile drive took over an hour, though we did stop frequently. With scenes like this, we had no choice.
 Though the Appalachians are old and low mountains (I grew up in the shadow of the Cascades, so I know from mountains), the grade was still fairly steep. We were over 5,000 feet up when we finally got to Craggy Gardens...
 ...which weren't actual gardens at all. The place was named for the many wild flowers that grow there. I believe the above tree is a Mountain Ash (the berries look like our Mountain Ashes).

Since it was fall, none of the wildflowers were blooming, though we could see the many wild rhododendron plants, which surprised us both. Rhodies thrive in the temperate and very moist soil of Northwest Washington. We did not expect to see them at this altitude, where snow is not at all uncommon.
 The views, as with all of the other views, were spectacular. We were above the general tree line at Craggy Gardens. The only vegetation was scrub and brushes and low trees...
 ...and rhododendrons.
 More beauty.(the photo above, not the one below)

I'm so glad we had the time to explore a bit. Maybe next time, we'll venture even further.

Tomorrow: food, glorious food

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Biltmore Flower Power

I made it home safely yesterday, after 16 hours in assorted airports and on assorted airplanes. Kris, who had twice the distance to travel, was home before I even made it to Minneapolis. Such is travel from one small town to another. My flights were all on time (early, even), and smooth, and it was as painless a day as 16 hours in assorted airports and on assorted airplanes can be. And I'm glad to be home.

Anyway, I have several recap posts yet to upload, which I will do over the next few days (including one about our trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Also about the food... which... omigod...)

Anyway, the Biltmore Estate has extensive gardens. I've never been there in the spring, to see the roses in full bloom, or the azalea gardens, but the fall gardens are amazing. And the conservatory is full of orchids.

Without further ado- many many pretty blossoms:

 Can you see the dragonfly? It's in honor of the Tiffany Glass exhibit.

A better shot of the dragonfly, etched out in mums.