Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fall Fun Part 3.2: Chapel Hill et al

Did you miss part 3A, Fun at the Fair??  Click here to read the first half of this weekend adventure.

After the fun and overstimulation at the NC State Fair, Miss Chef and I were ready for a rest.  We headed back west, but only for a short trip, as we were staying with relatives in Chapel Hill.  This was also the first real test of the navigation app on my new smart phone, and it made arriving in the dark so much easier!

We arrived to break up the tail end of a small birthday celebration, and were greeted with hugs and offers of more food and drink.  After the guests left, we sat with Lolette and Paul and chatted for an hour or so, but then it was time for bed.  Miss Chef and I had an early morning planned.

As I explained a couple of posts ago, Miss Chef sources as many ingredients for the school restaurant as she can from local farms, going every Saturday to at least one farmers’ market.  Even though we were out of town this weekend, the restaurant still needed its supplies.  So naturally, we did some research and discovered that the Carrboro Farmers’ Market sounded like just the place for us.

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Just as at Matthews farmers’ market at home, all the offerings must be produced within 50 miles of the market.  However, I think there were more vendors at this market, and definitely a bit more variety…besides food there was art…

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…and crafts.

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There was a bit more of a permanent structure too, which added to the overall charm of the place.

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Oh look, there’s Miss Chef.  She’s clutching an empty bag, so this must have been taken before the real shopping began.

And oh, what beautiful shopping there was!

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Besides the usual list of kale, turnips, beets, chicken, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard and butternut squash, we found a few ingredients for our own kitchen.  Two ducks we bought for our Christmas dinner ended up thawing by the time we got home…so I guess we’ll be enjoying an early preview of Christmas!  We also bought eggs there, and Miss Chef found a local maker of peanut butter blends too intriguing to pass up.  Chapel Hill Creamery, which won first prize at the State Fair for its take on Asiago cheese, deserved a visit too. 

And then there was the interesting fellow selling traditional curatives, like slippery elm bark for headaches, and jewelweed tea to counter poison ivy.  (We used to gather jewelweed in the woods and brew up tea every summer when I was a child.  I was shocked to see this fellow selling a spray bottle for $15!  If only we’d known…)  Miss Chef couldn’t resist the bundles of sassafras roots that came with a simple recipe for brewing root beer…more brewed beverages are in our future, it seems.

Of course, as at any farmers’ market, there were lovely flowers, too.

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This next picture makes me think of Bossy Betty and her Monday Morning Flowers.

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Once we had the trunk of the car nearly full (we had brought a cooler from home, not wanting to take over Lolette’s entire refrigerator), it was time to fill our bellies.  After all, we had gotten up at 6:30, and it was now after 9:00.  Carrying all that meat and produce back to the car—three times—can sure work up an appetite.

After asking for recommendations from one of the vendors, and with a little assistance from my new smartphone (yay Google maps!), we walked a few blocks into the center of town, to find Elmo’s diner.  It’s part of a shopping complex in a beautifully restored old mill.  The space in the restaurant was wonderfully bright and welcoming.

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Look at the richness of the wood flooring.  It was like this through the entire mill, even showing a few dark circles burned into one spot, which made me wonder what kind of equipment might have scarred the wood.  What a great sense of history has been retained here.

Unfortunately, the food wasn’t as superlative as the surroundings.  It wasn’t bad, just not great.  The orange juice was a bland, reconstituted mix, and some of the food came out cold.  But some of it was pretty good, such as the sausage gravy and the gi-normous biscuits.

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Hey there Miss Chef, all you have to do is ask, y’know…

Here’s Miss Chef’s huevos rancheros, which, once she added some salt, she declared pretty good.

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After leaving here, we bumped into a woman in the parking lot who chattered on about getting pies from the market…which intrigued us, of course.  So we followed her just around the corner to the Weaver Street Co-op, a local grocery-type store which is like a mix between a farmers’ market and a Whole Foods.  I didn’t take pictures, but we did of course manage to spend a bit more money there.  sigh

We finally wended our way home, where Lolette was finishing up some retouching of a painting.  She is an artist, having come to that calling a bit later in life than she would have if her artist father hadn’t discouraged her from following his example!  I was happy to see her in her studio, as she’s mentioned in the past that sometimes she can’t seem to find the time (or motivation) for her work.

You may remember I mentioned in a previous post that one of my photographs from last summer’s stay in Paris sparked a bit of inspiration, and that Lolette had asked for a copy to paint from.  As it turned out, that painting was a central piece in a show of hers in a local gallery, and we had one more day to stop in and see it!

Here’s a picture of the finished piece.

Remembering Paris

I decided that I like it better in person; the colors are richer and the lines better defined.  Not only was I excited to see Lolette’s show, but I had a feeling Miss Chef would enjoy the gallery.  Since we started planning our Big Trip way back in the spring of last year, she’s shown a real interest in more modern art, which I often don’t really “get.”  So I was interested to see what she’d find appealing here.

In the meantime, Lolette worked the crowd!

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She’s the one in the white shirt, and “my” painting is directly behind her and the other woman.  All the other paintings on the walls are Lolette’s also.  She does mostly landscapes and abstracts, as you can tell!  She was kind enough to introduce me to her potential buyers, explaining that I took the picture upon which she’d based her painting.  Well heck, if I’d known I was going to be a special guest, I’d have brought something nicer to wear! :)

There was some excitement outside the gallery, too.  It just so happened that an annual event was scheduled the same weekend as our visit.  The Paperhand Puppet  theater was putting on a parade as we walked to the gallery.  Here are a few snippets.

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Above you see a typical mask in the foreground.  In the background is a worm on a hook trying to escape a long eel or fish.  Oh, and I see a frog in there, too.  There was a lot to see!

Here’s another repeated theme—a tall bird with gossamer wings.

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Here’s one in action!  (This video stutters when I watch it; I don't know if it's because of our computer, or if it's just too big a file to stream over the internet.)

After our gallery visit, I couldn’t just walk past Matthews Chocolate shop, but we managed to limit ourselves to a couple of small bars, a truffle each, and some handmade marshmallows.  Oh, and a flourless chocolate cookie.  But that was IT!  (Edited to add: those handmade marshmallows were beyond description.  Sorry Stay-Puft man, you've met your match.)

After all this excitement, we headed home so Lolette could rest an achy knee.  Miss Chef was hungry, though, having skipped lunch, so the two of us headed back out for “a snack.”  At a wine bar, of course.  Back into Carrboro we went, to Glass Half Full.  I had a wonderful Sancerre, light and minerally, just the way I like my whites, and Miss Chef had her usual big bold Syrah.  We also enjoyed some great tapas—a charcuterie plate and some fantastic brussels sprouts with a honey-lemon glaze and crunchy crushed peanuts.  I didn’t take any photos, but I did manage to find some at this website.



Then we went home for a nap before dinner.  Ha!  This was certainly a food-centric weekend!  I was happy to realize upon rising from bed that my growing headache had disappeared and I was ready to head out again with Lolette and Paul.

Dinner was at Acme, a fine-dining restaurant with a  seasonal menu highlighting local ingredients—just the place I knew Miss Chef would enjoy.  When I had come on a visit with my parents last February, we ate here also, and I had hoped to return with Miss Chef.  Again, no photos, but you can visit their website here.  I can tell you that I had the wild game pasta bowl, with venison sausage and braised boar.  Miss Chef had one of the specials, veal cheeks with a sweet corn and pumpkin spoonbread.

Phew, I’m feeling stuffed all over again just talking about it!  Fortunately we were headed home Sunday morning, so were limited in opportunities to buy more food.   What a fun weekend, even more so because we were able to visit relatives I haven’t seen much, and get to know this part of the state a bit better.  We haven’t even made it to neighboring Raleigh yet, so chances are, we’ll be back!

This post is going up about ten days after the actual day.  In the intervening weekend, we've made yet another trip, to the mountains.  Once again, I'll be splitting that weekend into two posts, to come a bit later--I do have 216 photos and videos to sort through.  At this rate, I'll be running into Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fall Fun Part 3A: NC State Fair

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As promised, here's my next post in our Fall Fun series.  Every weekend in October has been filled with season-focused adventures.  First it was apple picking at Skytop Orchard in Flat Rock, then it was our local Renaissance Festival.  Last weekend was such a fun-filled one, I decided to break it into two posts.

So, Part 3A is all about our visit to the NC State Fair!  As a kid growing up in a rural area, I looked forward with excitement every fall to the Great Geauga County Fair.  I suspect it was a bigger highlight in my year than many of my friends', and I'm pretty sure it was for different reasons. Yeah, there were fun attractions like elephant ears and games where you could win goldfish or locker mirrors with Michael Jackson on them (dating myself much?), but to me the biggest draw was the animals.  When I think "fair," I think "draft horses," "cows" or "sheep."

For a few years, through 4H, I even had my own entries in the county fair.  I had a rabbit one year, and later I rode a (leased) horse in the Junior Fair Horse Show.  I won a few ribbons, nothing spectacular, but I also enjoyed spending days at a time having full run of the fairgrounds, petting sheep, trying my hand at milking a goat, finding out pigs aren’t much fun to pet.  And eating elephant ears.

So once we settled in to the seasons of North Carolina, my falls were missing something.  I guess I needed the sweet smell of cow poop to make them complete.  After two trips to Raleigh, I realized the State Fair is a whole different world.  Although there are many types of agricultural displays, the only day Miss Chef could accompany me was Sundays, when most of the livestock had already shipped out from the previous week, and the next week's bunch had yet to arrive.

This year, however, Miss Chef is available on the weekends, so I took a Friday off at work to have an opportunity to go pet the animals.  We had some things to take care of before leaving town, so it was about 4:00 before we finally got through the gates and worked our way toward the livestock barn…only to be a bit disappointed again.

There were plenty of cows in residence, but this was as close as we could get.

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Not that I’m at all excited about petting a cow’s rump, but I knew at this point that scritching goat heads and polishing donkey noses was still out of the picture.  Ah well, so it goes.  I suppose I should have expected it, after the huge e. coli scare at one of the county fairs nearby.  There were signs everywhere like this one:

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Still, I wasn’t too surprised, so my disappointment didn’t damper my fun very much.  After all, I got a nice whiff of healthy cow poop as we entered the arena.  (Seriously, I like that smell of manure, straw and wood shavings.  If you think I’m weird, you must be a suburbanite or city slicker.  Or in denial.) 

To make up for my inability to lay hands on hides, I made Miss Chef sit through a couple classes of cattle judging—this was a class of Brown Swiss heifers.

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Check out the judge, on the left in jacket and tie.  Awfully dressed up to look at a bunch of cow bums, isn’t he?  I like the fact that he got on the microphone after placing the animals, explaining what he saw in each—or didn’t see—to make his decisions.  I think he had a bit of an obsession with “tail set” though.

It seems every time we try to see the goats and sheep, the barn is closed to the public.  Are those animals too flighty to handle the crowds?  Next door, however, is the Ark, where the best of show winners are displayed, as well as a few “sample” animals.  You still can’t pet them, but you can get a little closer to them.  The light was a bit low, so videos actually turned out better than still pictures.

Here is a dairy goat eating hay and generally looking adorable.

And here are some mini donkeys seemingly tired of being adorable.

This brahma cow was looking rather noble, I thought.

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The other half of the building was occupied with other agricultural products—fruits and vegetables, mostly, but also honey and bees!

The guy you can hear droning on in the background (pun not intended but delightful!) was standing in a large wire mesh cage with a small swarm of bees.  Surprisingly, he was rather boring for being surrounded by bees.

After I got my fill of animal magnetism (and carefully washing our hands at one of the convenient hand-washing stations), it was time to explore the culinary delights of the fair.

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For two years, since we first heard about them, Miss Chef has been intrigued by this concept:

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Have you heard of these?  It’s a burger with Krispy Kreme donuts in the place of a bun.  Does it sound disgusting?  We couldn’t decide if it would be an unexpected treasure of flavors, or a ridiculous piece of American overload.  Finally we decided there was only one way to find out:

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I did promise you more exotic foods!

Tempting?  Miss Chef took one bite…thought to herself, “Is it really that bad?” and took another…and decided, “Yeah, it really is.”  I took three bites.  Miss Chef kept talking about how terrible the meat was, but I honestly couldn’t even taste it!  I tasted the donuts and the cheese, and that was about it.  So, after a total of five bites, this one hit the garbage can.

It still makes me wonder how it would taste with a good burger, though…

With that little experiment out of the way, we sampled some other more reliable fare—corn dogs, funnel cakes, corn on the cob. mozzarella sticks.  I also dragged Miss Chef through some more of the agricultural side of the fair.

There was a miniature farm aimed at children.  There were pretty flowers…

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…familiar friends…

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…and some regional specialties.

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Since we were back on that end of the fairgrounds, we just had to cruise through the poultry area.

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I thought the intricacy of the colors on this turkey’s feathers was amazing.

As evening fell, the other side of the fair came to prominence…ah, the glitz and glamour!

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No, we were done with fried foods by then…we headed to the flower displays, then to the Village of Yesteryear to enjoy some hot cider and rest for a few minutes in a quiet spot.  Then we had one last hurrah—Miss Chef wanted to win a prize on the midway.

I won’t tell you how much time and money she spent throwing darts at balloons, but this is what she chose when she finally worked her way up to the Extra-Large Prize level.


Don’t look at me, I told her to get the round, basketball-sized cow!  (Of course, right?)  I still have no idea why she thinks this is cool, but she had a hell of a lot of fun playing around with it on the way back to the car, so I guess it was a good choice for her.

So yes, thus ends this year’s installment of State Fair adventures.  We didn’t even stay for the fireworks.  But I will leave you with this cool light show instead.

Rosie update: She finished round 2 of antibiotics on Saturday, after two good weeks accident free.  I also decided to cut her rations back again, because she's definitely gained weight back.  But Tuesday night she seemed to have sprung a leak, all unknowing.  So Thursday she was back to the vet for re-tests, which all came out lovely and normal.  Next step is an ultrasound of her urinary system, and a sterile urine sample.  At least the vets and techs really seem to enjoy her!  Maybe they'll knock a few dollars off my next bill for the privilege of her presence...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fall Fun Part Two: Renaissance Festival

First of all, I realized it was time for a seasonal change. The color scheme I have in my head never seems quite matchable in reality, and so I’m never sure if my final choice is fun, cheery, sedate or just plain obnoxious.  If you feel this latter description applies (i.e., it gives you a headache), please let me know in the comments.  I will attempt to readjust.

Secondly, it has recently been brought to my attention that I’ve fallen behind in my previously maintained blog schedule.  I would apologize, but the truth is I’ve been too busy having Fall Fun, and my normal blogging time has been taken up by things like driving and eating fried foods.

Never fear, I shall do my best to catch you up.  That means we have to travel back in time.  Are you ready?  This will be but a brief visit, all the way back to Sunday October 14th…1549.  Sort of.  This was the morning Miss Chef and I drove to the northern fringes of the Charlotte area for our annual jaunt to the Carolina Renaissance Festival.

Although we spent about five hours there, I took very few pictures.  I guess I was enjoying just looking around, taking it all in.  Kind of like this:

Keep an eye out for the colorful guy on stilts. You’ll soon see more of him.


This year we took full advantage of many of the stage shows.  First off was my perennial favorite, Barely Balanced.  They’re young, good-looking, funny and amazing.  (You might need to turn up your volume to catch all the repartée.)

Their stage names are, from left to right: Large, Small and Medium.


If you notice a little shaking of the camera, that would be me laughing.  Here’s a better example of their typical routine.


We also saw Miss Chef’s favorite performance, a local troupe of belly dancers called Jewels of the Caravan.  Here’s another video, which actually doesn’t show a whole lot of dancing, but there’s fire, so that’s something.

It’s also kind of short…


Then we finally saw one of the perennial favorites, Hey Nunnie Nunnie!  It’s two women dressed in plain linen nun’s habits telling nun jokes, playing with props and singing lots of funny songs.  I didn’t take any pictures, since we were pretty far back, but I did get the song about five constipated men in the Bible stuck in my head for several days.  If you’d like to see them in action, go here

Since everyone always asks, no, we did not eat turkey legs.  The last time we tried one there it was horrible!  So we stuck with nice safe chicken tenders and fries.  Exciting, eh?

The rest of our time was spent wandering, looking at costumes, trolling through shops eyeing jewelry, candles, fancy hair braiding and all kinds of decorative arts.  We did get a couple of crêpes, which were nowhere near as good as the one we fought over in Paris.  But with no Sacré Coeur in the vicinity, that’s not unexpected.

I hope this sates you for at least a few days.  But check back soon, as I have another, longer adventure to share with you from this past weekend.  It involves much more exotic foods than turkey legs!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Market Morning

Miss Chef doesn’t get nearly enough credit for all she does as an instructor.  She fully believes in supporting local food, and indoctrinates her students into this as a matter of course (no pun intended, but true!).  So nearly every major ingredient on her menu is sourced locally.  This includes beef, chicken, vegetables, fruits and even grits.

A few of the local farms are big enough, and have enough restaurant sales, that they do weekly deliveries.  (Compare that to Sysco or US Foods, which can deliver every day if need be.)  However, depending on the season and who’s got what, Miss Chef has to hit the local farmers’ market(s) every Saturday morning.

This means that after four days of getting up at 5:30 for class (she has Friday off), she gets up at 6:30 or 7:00 on Saturday.  This also means organizing orders, pickup, payment and invoices for probably ten different vendors.  She’s even opened up a separate checking account to manage all this, as she has to pay with her own money up front and be reimbursed by the school.

This morning we had to visit two farmers’ markets—Matthews and the Charlotte Regional Farmers’ market (which is run by the state of North Carolina).  We went to Matthews first, because it’s an early market!  If you don’t get there before 8:30, you might miss out on half of what’s on offer!  Today we got there around 8:00 and were too late for beets.

We did get a dozen eggs from Carl, 10 whole frozen chickens from Milt, a garbage bag’s worth of kale from Pat (who threw in a two free bags of baby arugula), the rest of Sammy’s turnips and a few herbs (oh, and he threw in another bag of arugula!).

Alas, nobody had Swiss chard and as I mentioned, we were too late for beets.  So off we went to the Big Market.  Two huge sheds full of almost anything you can imagine!  The first vendor we stopped at had all the beets and Swiss Chard we could handle.  They were crazy busy, but very efficiently run by a small team of young women.   Here’s an example of their efficiency:

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Though it looks like he’s planning an escape, this little tyke was perfectly happy hemmed in by his giant cooler playpen.  He was grinning up a storm, and seemed to enjoy all the bustle around him.

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Now, Miss Chef had been complaining lately that she had sort of lost her mojo.  She just wasn’t feeling excited about her menu or the new fall ingredients.  But she seemed to be coming around, as she kept falling in love with ingredients all over the market.  Leeks, purple sweet potatoes, baby bok choy…and then we wandered by a small booth with intriguing Asian ingredients.  The energetic young woman invited us to try a bite of sugar cane.  “Use it like gum,” she said.  We popped a small chunk in our mouths, and when we bit down, a flood of lightly sweet water washed through our mouths.

Once again, Miss Chef fell in love!  She bought a four-foot length of sugar cane, along with some kefir lime leaves and some hibiscus buds.  Here’s a picture of the buds, with some of the cut-up sugar cane in the background.

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I just realized it would be rude of me not to show you the actual cane, so let me go get a photo for you…hang on…

Here it is with a dozing Rosie for fun and perspective (Miss Chef cut about a foot of it off already).  (Off the cane, not the dog!)



And here’s a close-up.  Everyone thought it was bamboo—including us!


It’s really quite dense, which is logical, since it holds so much water. 

Anyway, back at the market…after cruising through both sheds, we had one last stop at the school, to unload a week’s worth of produce for the restaurant there.

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Then we finally headed home, because Miss Chef was finally excited about cooking again!  Her earlier apathy was distressing for both of us, so you know I’d do anything to help her.  Even it it means washing a boatload of dishes.

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“I think I’m going to use every pan we have,” she said at one point.  “That sounds about right,” I replied.  What do we have here?  Purple sweet potatoes, red and orange carrots waiting to be glazed with some of our homemade stock, grocery-store bacon, and a mix of potatoes and leeks being prepared for a quiche.  Lunch was the sweet potatoes and carrots with some scrambled eggs we’d just gotten from Carl topped with our own chives, and sautéed bok choy.  The sacrifices I make…

Oh, and after that, Miss Chef made a cold-season tea with the hibiscus buds, sugar cane and some of the fresh ginger we bought several weeks ago.  It’s as good as it sounds! 

And after that…she went to work again.  On a Saturday night.  This time Chef Luca asked me himself if she could work tonight, and promised he only needed her for three hours.  This was after he handed me a length of locally-made sopressata sausage from Hickory Nut Gap farm near Asheville.  How could I say no?? 

Besides, with Miss Chef gone, I have more time to post on my blog.  You’re welcome.

PS. I had another reason for this post today.  I recently got a new phone, one with a camera!  I’ve had a very basic clamshell phone for years, and loved it, but the buttons weren’t connecting so well, and texting was a pain.  So I finally entered the 21st century and bought a smartphone.  Most of the photos above were taken with my new camera phone, and I wanted to see how they compare to my usual pictures.  I can say I still prefer those taken by a real camera, so I’ll be taking that with me tomorrow when we go to the Renaissance Festival!

PPS. A quick Rosie update: still no diagnosis, other than a continuing urinary infection.  She’s on a second course of antibiotics, and I have completed her switch over to a different brand of food.  I don’t know whether it’s the food, the medicine or the drop in temperature lately, but she’s about 300% more Rosie than in previous weeks.  And no accidents this week! (knock wood)  The vet still would like to know why her urine is so dilute, but so far I’m happy we’ve got a perky girl and no wet spots on the carpet.  Another vet visit is on the books once she’s finished her drugs.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fall Fun Part One: Apples

My last post was about my latest trip down the Catawba on a kayak.  I knew I had to get out on the river, because Saturday was beautiful—sunny with highs in the low 80s—and on Sunday, the weather was definitely closing in.

Truth be told, I was a little bummed that we couldn’t schedule our first autumn outing for Saturday’s good weather.  Not only were we expecting a steep drop in temperature Sunday, but heading up into the mountains would subtract another five or ten degrees.  But Miss Chef--who as you may remember quit the restaurant job and should be home nights and weekends—had agreed to work Saturday night for Chef Luca.  (She’s actually worked the last three weekends, so I’m not sure what the point of quitting was…)

Last year, we enjoyed a fantastic outing at Skytop Orchard, with views like this:

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This year?  Visibility was just a little lower…

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It still made for some interesting, atomspheric photos.

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Miss Chef really wanted Cameos, but all the cameo trees we saw were picked over.  So we decided we were going to get a peck from the store, and just pick a little of what was available in the orchard, for the fun of it.

By the way, in spite of the emptiness of these photos, the place was crowded!  It was a bit odd, because the trees are so low and bushy that once you’re in a row, you can’t really see beyond it.  So we were surrounded by voices but couldn’t actually see anyone.

After passing row after row of picked-through trees—granny smith, mutsu, fuji, golden delicious—we found the Arkansas blacks.

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These are a gorgeous, deep red.  Some of them looked more like giant plums than apples.  They taste pretty good, too!

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I am always amazed at the amount of fruit that is lost to windfall.  (Or tourist fall, as the case may be…)

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Since there are only two of us, we tried to restrain ourselves, and stopped before we filled our basket all the way.  We ended up with granny smiths, Arkansas blacks and some fujis.  Then it was the long slog back up the steep hill to the main store area, to pay and to pick out the rest of our purchases.

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Now can you tell how crowded it was?

We had to make two separate purchases, since the car was a bit of a walk (uphill, naturally), and apples are heavy.  First we had the 10 lbs or so of what we had picked, then another peck of cameos, and two ginormous bags for Chef Adam at the restaurant.   Don’t worry, there were plenty of apples left.

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Our second trip was with six and a half gallons of cider (I’ll explain later).  Fortunately, as we came back to the store, I kept my eyes open for one of the twenty wagons on site, and we were able to wheel our second load up the hill, puff puff.  Did I mention that my arms and shoulders were a bit sore from my previous day’s paddling?

Finally, everything was loaded in the car and we were able to reward ourselves!  One more time back to the store, where I sent Miss Chef to stand in the long line for donuts while I went to fetch some refreshing cider.

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Hmm, no, it was definitely not slushie weather.  I got some hot cider, which kept us pacified as we stood in line for about 20 minutes for those hot, fresh apple cider donuts.  I kept laughing at myself, because earlier in the store, when we were picking out giant bags of apples, I saw a couple walk by with a stack of several dozen.  “I didn’t know you could buy them like that…” I said aloud.  Miss Chef took one look at me and said “Easy, girl.”  She actually looked a little nervous.

All of which is to say that I was too excited about the donuts to take pictures of them.  But I did take a picture of the line behind us when there were about five groups still in front of us.

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Yeah, they were that good.

And then there was this girl, who was learning she liked apples.  I wonder if she got a taste of donut, too?  I bet she did!

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Oh, and the unnecessarily large amount of cider?  It’s brewing right now into hard cider.  Have a listen!

Sorry the lighting’s a bit crappy.  But I hope you can recognize the bucket!  Wort has been heartily welcomed by all, and is nearly consumed by now.  This batch of hard cider should be ready for Thanksgiving, then it will be time for the next Wort to move in.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Signs of Fall

Temperatures are falling.  Mornings are refreshingly cool, evenings are pleasantly chill.
I’ve snuggled into a sweatshirt for the first time this season.
Tomatoes are done. Pumpkins are here.  Even WalMart has an “AppleFest” going on.
Baking seems like an inviting activity now.
The feeling of warm sunlight is finally welcome.

While still battling on, mosquitos and gnats are fewer and seemingly weaker.  (Is it just my imagination?)
The geese are practicing flight formations.  Blue jays reappear, shrieking and flashing through the crisping leaves, crass Yankees traveling through the shoulder season.

The spider armies are busy spinning and crawling and creeping. I dislike spiders and their too-numerous, overly articulated legs…but maybe they, too have something to do with the drop in mosquitos and gnats.

Today has been all seasons at once—a chill morning with heavy dew that looked like frost, new grass poking up from a week of regular rain, hot sun in the afternoon with highs in the 80s, and leaves slowly, slowly changing to yellow and brown before drifting out of the branches.

It was, of course, a perfect day for paddling.

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As I had hoped, the surging crowds that overwhelmed me in the summer have changed their focus elsewhere.  Water sports are not an October Thing.  When I and another paddler arrived at the stand at 11:00 to get our vests and paddles, the employee told us only two other people had been out.  This was after he asked us each our names, then introduced us.  “There, now you know each other.”

Trevor was gone with his long strides before I had finished fussily fitting my vest.  I saw his shoes at the dock, though, before I descended the wooden steps and slid out of my own sandals.  Once in the water, I found myself feeling awkward and splashy.  I was trying a different kind of paddle, one which I’ve used before, but it took me a while to find my rhythm.

Today I decided to try a new trajectory.  I’d go all the way up to the bridges.

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Can you see them in center of the picture above?  They’re easier to see in person.  I’d been up there once before, in the spring, when the sun was already beginning to heat up.  I thought today’s temperatures and lower humidity might be more friendly.  Besides, there are only so many times you can paddle the same creek in a season without getting bored.

About twenty minutes’ paddling got me here…you can separate out the railway trestle and highway bridge. 
“Are we there yet?”

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“How much longer?”
“Not far now…we’re almost there.”

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“Ah, here we are!”

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On my earlier visit, I had been surprised to learn there are actually three bridges here: two railway and one highway.  I think the second railway trestle is no longer in use, but I’ve never seen a train go over either one, so I’m just guessing.

In the spring the trees on either bank were alive with the twitterings of careening swallows.

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Today only a small, quiet group of crows flew overhead.

Something about these bridges kept my camera out and clicking.

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My eye was drawn by the rusty corroded metal against the clean Carolina blue sky.

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There were at least half a dozen men in kayaks under and around the bridges, all kitted up with fishing gear, quietly floating in the shade.  (I learned later there was a tournament going on.)

And then there was this:

The light and sound are pretty bad, but that’s a huge motorboat getting ready to launch.  It was incredibly loud when it started; I think it had four motors across the back.

Now watch the video again, and notice how every man has stopped what he’s doing to watch! 

I would have been highly irritated at this ridiculously overdone man toy disturbing my quiet afternoon, but for one of the kayak fishermen.  Right before this ruckus started, we had exchanged greetings.  “How’s it going?” I’d asked.  After the boat started, he turned back to me with a grin, and shouted above the din, “Much better now!”

That’s when I noticed how all the men upstream and down had come to attention like bird dogs on point.  I couldn’t help but giggle as I turned and headed back down stream.  Boys!

I did stop to take a couple of photos under the highway.

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The swallows were gone, but their nests were still in surprisingly good shape.

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As I headed back toward the Whitewater Center, I realized I had only been out about 40 minutes, and had plenty of time to play.  So I decided to go ahead and stop by to visit Long Creek after all.

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There were a few warning shots of fall’s approach.

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I got myself into all sorts of contortions trying to capture the sun’s effects coming through these leaves.

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By the time I got back to the dock, my arms and shoulders were beginning to ache, and Trevor's shoes were gone.  A good paddle, all in all.

Tomorrow we make our first fall pilgrimage to the mountains, heading to Flat Rock just for the day.  We’ll go back to Skytop Orchard to pick apples and buy cider.  Miss Chef is planning to make hard cider, to be ready in time for Thanksgiving.  Unfortunately for us, tomorrow is supposed to be rainy with temperatures in the 50s!  (That’s about 13 degrees Celsius for any metric folk out there.)

There will be no doubt tomorrow---fall is in session.