Monday, March 26, 2012

Road Trip!

A few weeks ago I suggested to Miss Chef that we take advantage of her spring break (from one of her two jobs) to try to arrange a getaway.  Of course, by the time all her other obligations got filtered through, we only had a single day to play with.  As always, our thoughts turned westward…to the mountains.

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The weather has been very wet lately, and the forecast was unsettled and changing by the hour.  It generally included rain, though!  I was kind of unsettled myself, deciding whether or not to spend the money on a half-day visit to a place I’d wanted to see for years.

A very European place…

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…only, set in the Blue Ridge mountains of the Appalachians.

Since it’s only two hours away, I figured it was time to seize the day and finally visit the Biltmore House and gardens!

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Although she was happy just to spend the day with me, Miss Chef wasn’t nearly as excited as I was about the place.  She’s not into standing around in someone else’s house staring at their furniture and drapery.  However, as we got our first dramatic glimpse of the mansion, she did exclaim it was a lot more spectacular than she’d expected.

The inside didn’t excite her interest nearly as much.  I think she was still gun-shy from our overcrowded experience at Versailles last summer.  I, however, enjoyed seeing the luxurious surroundings and imagining the Victorian lifestyle led by the residents and their guests.

Unfortunately for you, there is no photography allowed inside.  I did sneak this shot through a window on the fourth floor, looking toward the front.

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If I weren’t being sneaky, I might have tried to adjust the settings to wash out the screen.  Oh well.  At least I didn’t get tossed in the dungeon out!  You can see more here—the video shows a lot of what we saw (albeit quickly, without explanations!)

We saw a great deal of the house, though I’m sure it’s only a small percentage of the whole place.  We visited some of the manly areas: the billiard room, gun room and top-floor observatory.  (No telescope or anything; we didn’t get the audio tour, so I’m not sure why it’s got that name.)  I enjoyed seeing the grand banquet hall, with a seven-story arched wooden ceiling, triple stone fireplace, pipe organ and seating for 38 at one table.

We went through the bedrooms of Mister and Missus, as well as the ridiculously huge room where they had breakfast and planned their day with the help of the housekeeper and butler.  There were several areas for entertainment, and a wonderful library with an enormous 18th-century painting “saved” from a crumbling palace in Venice.  There were servant quarters, guest rooms, a bowling alley and a 70,000 gallon indoor swimming pool!  I can’t imagine living in this kind of luxury and splendor.  How odd to be cut off from the realities of making a living and washing one’s own underwear.

Of course, the gardens were as much a draw to me as the house, and even more so for Miss Chef, who was tired at looking at other people’s dishes and changing rooms.  So the rest of this post is pretty much pictures of plants.  As you can tell, the light wasn’t the best, so I’ve punched up the brightness on some of these, and the color on others.   Most of them are unretouched, though.  (Oh, and some are by Miss Chef; we were trading the camera back and forth.)

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Our first stop was the rather plain terrace off the library…unadorned, but sheltered by an arbor twined with ancient-looking wisteria.  This was the largest of the trunks.  The picture at the top of this post was taken looking 180-degrees from this one.  This one is a bit to the left of that view.

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Yeah, the Loire valley is pretty too, but them castles ain’t got no mountains to look at!

Next we wandered down toward the formal walled gardens.  There were some bright forsythias and early-blooming azaleas, but it wasn’t exactly a riot of color.  (It wasn’t as cold as this picture makes it look, either!)

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You had to get up close to feel surrounded by spring color.

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Ah, but as we descended the staircase…

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…we could glimpse that our timing was just right for the tulips!

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…lots and lots of tulips!  Looks like this area’s about two weeks behind our schedule in the foothills.

Although the weather wasn’t perfectly gorgeous, it was still a good day for this:

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Awwww!

On we went.  Miss Chef liked these crazy-looking tulips.  They remind me of Little Shop of Horrors (in a good way).

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I loved this view of the wall at the top of the gardens, though we had to wait forever to snap this without cars in it.  We later learned ourselves that every car coming into the estate is sent through this gate and along the perimeter of these gardens.  Once again, we lucked out with the crappy weather.  I’m sure there’s no chance in Hades of getting a car-free shot here on a nice spring day!

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Next up was a quick stroll through the greenhouses…the many, many greenhouses!  Oh, sorry…conservatory.  Doesn’t the exterior look just the epitome of Victorian style?

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You can only imagine how much time we could have spent here if we hadn’t been a bit disciplined about keeping moving!  Once again, what a pleasure to have the freedom to see it all without the crowds.

Next up was a a peek into the azalea garden—15 acres in all, but we only had time to stick our noses in for a quick visit.

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As it turned out, we were a bit early for the azaleas…

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…but not for the dogwoods and redbud trees.
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This Japanese maple was putting on its own show.
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Speaking of attention-getting trees…as we came back out the way we came in, I was awed by these two guardians at the top of the stairs.
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Can you imagine all those bushes on either side full of blooms??

As we wended our way back toward the way out, we had a few lovely glimpses of the house again.

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I stopped to admire a cool little fountain fixture under an arbor.  I thought you’d like to see me, since I rarely post pictures of myself here!

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As you drive out, you’re directed through the pastoral section of the estate, acres and acres of tree-dotted grassland, river bottom and pasture.  I just had to pull over to say hello to this handsome devil.

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He was friendly enough to flutter his nostrils at us, but wasn’t about to stop munching that tender new grass.

There is also a well-known winery on the grounds, and a reconstructed “farm village” area I’d love to visit, but it was getting late and we had reservations for dinner.  Miss Chef and I decided that we did want to come back to see the rest of the estate, so we stopped long enough to upgrade our passes to 12-month passes.  Oh my!  I’m a season passholder at Biltmore!  I never expected that.  This place is expensive, but it was cheaper to pay for the upgrade than to pay for another admission.  So…wondering if Miss Chef might be willing to come again in a couple of weeks for azalea season?  And then there’s always our traditional fall mountain getaway…we might have to get very familiar with Interstate 40 this year!

I’ll have to write another—much briefer—post about our dinner, but for now the sun has come out and I have my own estate to attend to.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Glamour

Justina at Morning Bray Farm shared an easy way to take glamorous close-ups at home.  Since she chose a beautiful stargazer lily as her subject, you know I just had to try it out myself.

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Is it bragging if I tell you this iris came from our yard?  Well, maybe not if I confess these bulbs were planted by a previous owner, and all we’ve had to do is be sure to mow around them.

 

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For those who haven’t seen Justina’s post, here’s the setup:

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Foil on a table and tissue paper on a window.  Pretty low-tech, huh?  Especially if you could see the table sitting on a couple of boxes, to bring it up high enough to meet the window.  Unfortunately, ours have those false mullions on them (the rectangle thingies), so I had to work around them.  We also don’t have that powerful New Mexico sun (and are having rainstorms as I type this), so I had to up the brightness on mine.

Which is fine, since it hides the wrinkles in the tissue paper on the window!  Here’s a before-and-after of another one, where the stupid mullion had to intrude.

 

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And just for fun, here’s another shot of the set-up that makes me feel all artisty and stuff.

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I think between the flower, the new camera and Miss Chef’s Alain Ducasse cookbook, this is a microcosm of our interests.

Thanks, Justina, for the inspiration.  And just in time for the whole growing season!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mini Garden Update

It’s been twelve days since I finished grubbing up weeds from the garden bed and let loose with the vegetable seeds.  Days later I started seeing tiny little seedlings….way, way more than I had sown.  Today, most of the area I sowed looks like this:

 

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Somewhere along here, running left to right, is a fairly straight line of beets.  How the heck are you supposed to weed this mess?

I mean, can you even tell if there are any beet seedlings coming up at all?

 

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How about now?

 

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Yeah, I think I might wait a bit longer before trying to distinguish the invitees from the garden crashers.  I don’t feel like lying on my stomach with a magnifying glass and tweezers.

Here’s what my carrots look like.

 

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Hard to tell apart from the persistent grass shoots coming up from those ubiquitous runners.  I’m not too worried about weeding right now, as I’m just relieved things are germinating.

It’s much easier to tell the ambitious little radishes from the weeds!

 

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As a reward for sitting through all these ground-grubbing photos, here’s something pretty to look at!

 

 

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…and these!  We picked these up at Home Depot…because it was open on a Sunday morning, and I really, really needed to plant something!  They’re called lithodora, and I’ve never heard of them and don’t know much about them beyond they’re a perennial ground cover for full sun…but sheeesh, can you blame me?

 

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So far they seem very happy where I planted them, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that they’ll be coming back year after year.

I hope you have good things coming up in your days, too!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Renfrow Hardware Store

The land owned by the Renfrows, right next to this store, is where the Matthews Community Farmers' Market thrives today.  Right across the street is the restaurant where Miss Chef works.

You really should come for a visit.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

One-Liners

Most of these spill past one line, but the idea is a collection of randomness.  I guess you could consider it a minimalist version of Friday Fragments.  No photos; I’ve been literally working from dawn to dusk.  Tonight is overcast, so no moon photos either.


It’s gotten up to 80 degrees the last couple days here, and the flowering Bradford pear trees are going nuts.  Every evening as I drive into our neighborhood, smelling the heavy pollen, I have to think, “Thank God for Singulair.”


I admire a dog’s outlook: after spending ten hours alone in a stuffy house, Rosie doesn’t whine about her boring, uncomfortable day like I would.


We have tiny, itsy-bitsy radishes peeking out of the ground!  And maybe some carrots; it was hard to tell in the dusk.


The daffodils are done, the tulips are beautiful, the phlox is just winking awake.


Reading the archives of my own blog, I see that Miss Chef and I used to have even less time to be together, and I remind myself to be grateful.


After 40 years, I am finally learning to stand up straight, thanks to yoga.


Are there any other animals besides humans that have bad posture and have to learn what their bodies should know instinctively?


Loved these quotes from The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran AdriĆ£’s elBulli:

“As a society…we track down the best artisanal cheeses, make lists of restaurants where we must eat before we die, and blog about the short ribs we cooked for dinner.”  (omg, that’s me!)

“The long hours, the scars and burns, the knife skills, the verbal abuse, the perfectionism, the flavor profiling…” (She writes about kitchens the way I wish I could.)


Last weekend we went to the US National Whitewater Center for the first time this season, and never got wet!


Oh ok, here’s a picture:

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This is one of the server’s sons, who busses at the restaurant, and whom Miss Chef has “adopted” as a nephew (since our actual nephews are so far away!)  He’s 14, and she’s been wanting to take him to the Whitewater Center.  He’s on one of the new adventure courses, 20 feet in the air.  I will probably have to give it a try next time (notice the harness and helmet).  Instead, this time I tried the 1,000+ foot zipline that starts 46 feet in the air (that’s higher than you think it is, trust me).  I was terrified peeing my pants scared, but I knew I could do it.  Took me three times before I felt ok with it, though!


That was way longer than one line.


Some of my favorite blogs are my favorites because their authors respond to most or all of their comments. I’d like to try doing that, too.


Also notice I’ve added a little pseudo-twitter on the sidebar.  I plan to keep it filled with “one-liners” and updates, to make up for those days that I just don’t have time to blog!  Thanks to Natalie of Chickenblog for the inspiration. Winking smile

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Spring!

Yes, it’s officially here.  Don’t even bother with the calendar.  Just step outside.

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The flowering trees are in full bloom, and the tiny hyacinths are popping up all over.

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I had fun playing with the super macro setting on Miss Chef’s new camera…

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…and a very willing model.

But that’s not what got me out in the yard.  Nope, it happens every year.  Just when I think I’ve lost any interest in gardening, the turn in the weather changes my mind.  It’s kind of scary, actually, like an addiction to getting my hands dirty.  (I was going to say “an addiction I can’t control,” but I’ve never really tried to control it, so I wouldn’t know.)

Two weeks ago, this was my garden bed:

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I had cultivated the front section, and the very back has garlic I planted in December (it should’ve been in November, but this winter it didn’t really matter).  The middle was…basically, it was lawn.  A nice thick thatch of invasive Bermuda grass, with a generous sprinkling of flowering weeds.  In other words, backbreaking hours of work.  I considered ways of leaving it fallow, so I wouldn’t have to clean up and maintain it all summer.

But that was before my addiction kicked in.  I worked on it last weekend, and today, in spite of myself, I managed to finish the rest of the bed.  Now it looks like this!

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You can see the garlic in back better in this photo, but you can’t see all the seeds I planted (or the remaining roots and grass runners that will be re-sprouting in a few days’ time).  Still, if you’re not an addicted gardener, or OCD, this probably doesn’t look all that exciting. 

Ah, but if you could only see what I see…

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Yes, there’s a lot of extra space.  I’m paring way back; trying to be realistic about how much time I’ll be spending out there, and how many vegetables we’ll be using with Miss Chef hardly home to cook.  So I was just going to add some basil, and maybe a couple of tomato plants.

On the other hand…I’m not going to be teaching this spring, and I hate to leave the bed open to weed seeds and grass runners.  So I think I’ll toss in a squash plant or two.  Just as ground cover, of course.  I talked to Miss Chef about taking any extra crops in to the school restaurant to use up.

I just need an outlet for my addiction, I guess.


In other news, I finally got something taken care of that’s been bothering me for years.  These guys:

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Meet Todd, our lawn guy!  He’s attacking the giant holly bushes that I struggle to cut back every year.  You can see through them because their internal structure is so big that by the time I get them wrestled back to something reasonable, there’s not much foliage left.  I couldn’t get them any smaller than this without a chainsaw.  They’re way too big for a one-story house, and every year they just get bigger. 

“Off with their heads!” I cried!  Not really—but Todd kept warning me, “You know there’s not gonna be much left if I take ‘em that far down.”  Repeatedly.  I think he was scared I was going to freak out when I saw….this!

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Ha ha ha ha!  YES!!  I love it.  Take that, you monsters!  I can finally see my house.  In fact, I’m kind of wishing I’d had him take them down a little further.  Ah well, I’m looking forward to being able to keep them trimmed without hauling out the 8-foot stepladder. 

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If you’re freaking out that I’ve just killed my landscaping, don’t worry.  These are a common Asian holly that are practically indestructible. We could cut them all the way down and they’d sprout back up from the roots.  Which I just may consider doing the next time I call Todd out with his chainsaw.

In the meantime, anybody need to start a brushpile fence?

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And this doesn’t really fit in here, but I have to make you hungry, you know.  We finally made it to the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market this morning, so it seemed appropriate for Miss Chef to work on her omelet skills again.

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That stuff in the back is a purple sweet potato cooked with kale—both of which I normally turn my nose up at, but this was good.  Miss Chef said something about using butter…no, using lots of butter.  Might have something to do with it.

I hope you all are getting a little whiff of spring, too!