Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mountain Getaway

Three years ago, Miss Chef and I celebrated our 10th anniversary by renting a cabin in the woods in the mountains of western North Carolina.  We enjoyed the entire weekend so much that it’s become our annual tradition.  Just as the long nights close in and winter signals its intent to return, we enjoy a last hurrah of sunshine (usually), beautiful color, and apples.

We have never stayed in the same place twice, and this year found us heading to Lake Lure, just down the road from Chimney Rock, which we visited a couple of years ago.  It seemed more difficult to us to find the kind of place we wanted this year within our price range.  Miss Chef found one in a gated community, which I assumed meant more of a townhome kind of arrangement, or at least not quite the isolated cabin experience we’ve had in the past.

Regardless, I was excited to get away for a long weekend.  It’s only about 2 1/2 hours to drive to the Asheville area, and it seems only an hour or so before we are already enjoying our first mountain views.



Although Lake Lure is on the near side of Asheville, we couldn’t check in to the cabin until 3:00.  So Miss Chef assumed that we would naturally head on into Asheville for lunch at her favorite area restaurant…


…again.  We haven’t been to Asheville without eating here, since we first discovered it.  So I didn’t bother to suggest we try something different.  Besides, there are always a few more items left to explore on this menu.

Miss Chef leapt at the chance to sit at the bar, which is prime seating for the open kitchen.  We both enjoyed watching the many cooks at work, serving up our lunches while also prepping for dinner.  I swear one cook stood in front of me separating cloves from heads of garlic for half an hour.


With all the movement going on, it was impossible to get a good, clean panorama shot, but I like the sense of energy.  I was impressed at how quietly the cooks worked, and how they seemed more or less oblivious of their audience.  Even the sauté pans were shiny and clean.  No cursing or sex jokes out here!

After lunch, we wandered Asheville for a bit, visiting Mast General Store and French Broad Chocolate Lounge…yum!



Then we headed on a rather lengthy drive down (and up, and down…) a lovely, winding mountain road toward Lake Lure to get the key to the cabin.  Though we had been getting hints of early fall color for the past week or so in  Charlotte, everything was still mostly green.



Once we had keys and directions in hand, we found our way to the “gated community” and quickly realized this wasn’t your average neighborhood.  Almost immediately we were driving up a narrow, twisty gravel road with cabins strewn here and there on the wooded slope.  And when we finally reached our cabin, I had to give Miss Chef her due…she had found us a perfect mountain getaway.



It was small and warm, with a second-story loft area serving as master bedroom.   The opposite wall of the cabin promised a lovely first view in the morning.



It wasn’t until I looked out the back window, and stepped onto the balcony that I fully appreciated where we had landed.


The name of the property is “Me, You and the View,” which had stuck me as just too cutesy, but I have to hand it to them…it’s a perfect name.

After settling in, we drove back out to get a few essentials—coffee for the morning, deli sandwiches for dinner, and our first gallon of apple cider.  Then we retired to our cozy getaway and enjoyed a few hours snuggled in front of the tv with hot mulled cider.

The next morning, I arose just before dawn and discovered the view had many faces…


…and that it changed quickly and frequently.  The fog rising off Lake Lure became rosy in the morning sun before slowly dissipating.







The temperature had dropped well below freezing the previous night, and neither of us was eager to head out on a tromp through the woods on this chilly morning.  So we opted to drive back to Hickory Nut Gap Farm, which we had passed the day before.  Miss Chef has been here before to pick up pork and beef for the school, and for one of the restaurants she’s worked at.  Today it was time to pick up some supplies for ourselves.

Which included apples.



Once we’d cleared out a good portion of their inventory, we decided to head on back to Asheville, since the farm was about halfway there anyway.  The day was still chilly, so we stopped to eat at a noodle shop right on Pack Square.  The place was teeny-tiny, reminding me of some of the no-frills restaurants I’d enjoyed as a student in Paris, many years ago.  The food was warm, delicious and filling, and we were soon back on the sidewalks, exploring the storefronts of this funky, creative city.

We stopped at the renowned Malaprops independent bookstore.



We tried out a new business, the Gourmet Chip Company.


I got the plain-Jane salt and pepper chips, Miss Chef tried “the Parisian:” white truffle spritz, herb crusted goat cheese, rosemary and thyme.

We checked out any number of gift shops, food stores and art galleries as the day warmed a bit.  We eventually found ourselves in the general area of the parking garage where we had left the car, and decided to head out of the city.  My vote was to enjoy a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, this is a beautiful two-way roadway constructed in the 1930s.  Today it is, in a sense, the longest National Park in the country.  According to Wikipedia,

“[i]t runs for 469 miles (755 km) through twenty-nine Virginia and North Carolina counties, mostly along the Blue Ridge, a major mountain chain that is part of the Appalachian Mountains. Its southern terminus is on the boundary between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina, from which it travels north to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and offers access to the Skyline Drive.”

And according to the official National Park website, construction began in 1935 as part of the New Deal, offering jobs for the unemployed.  Today it is a lovely tourist attraction, but considering the state of technology nearly 80 years ago, it’s also a monument to human determination and ingenuity.

Ride along with us for a minute or so (please ignore the windshield specks).


The construction of the parkway tunnels gives testimony to the careful craftmanship of a bygone era.



The parkway also features many, many pullouts to stop and enjoy scenic overlooks.  We took advantage of several.






It seemed that the overnight cold snap had finally started some of the trees into their first bright show of color.




However, as you can tell, the sun was promising to soon drop behind the distant ridge, so we headed back to the the nearby town of Hendersonville for a warm, tasty dinner.  It was close to bedtime when we drove our way back up the gravel road to our home away from home, and we didn’t waste any time snuggling in for another cozy night.

Sunday morning I slept a bit later than the day before, and was eager to see what the view offered this day.



After snapping this shot, I settled into breakfast, only to look up no more than five minutes later and discover the scene had changed remarkably!


And ten minutes after that…



Did you notice the fake owl sitting on the balcony railing in a couple of those shots?  Miss Chef found it a bit unsettling…I can’t imagine why…



This was checkout day, so Miss Chef was busy cleaning up while I finished breakfast and stripped the bed.  I decided that, although we’d missed our chance for stargazing with the telescope near the back window, it might be interesting to see what it could do in gazing across the valley.  I’d never used a telescope before, and it took me forever to see anything besides white haze.  But in a one-in-a-million stroke of luck, I happened to zero in on the top of Chimney Rock!  I had Miss Chef come out to see, and we were both surprised to realize our cabin was sitting at least as high as that formation. 

Before driving back to the office of the rental agency, we went a little out of our way to visit the small lake where a kayak belonging to the property had been available for our use.  It had been too cold the previous day, but we were interested to see what the lakeside looked like.  And we were quite glad we took the time!



We also discovered a short nature trail across the road, and were happy to get in at least a short hike in the woods.  There was a picturesque waterfall…


…and a gorgeous wide, rocky river alive with swirling eddies.





We spent quite a while here, seated on a huge boulder, just watching the water flow by.  Isn’t that what vacation is all about.



Soon enough though, we were headed back to the highway—a couple of stops for more cider and other regional treats, as well as lunch in Hendersonville, and then back down to the flatlands.  We collected Rosie from “camp,” where she stays with a friend in the country, and then finally home.

Only to realize, fall had followed us into our own front yard.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I’m totally going out of order.  I did indeed take some photos during our trip to the state fair last Saturday, but right now I want to share photos from Sunday afternoon’s big event.


The Piedmont Culinary Guild is a new organization Miss Chef was asked to be a founding member of earlier this year.  It comprises mostly chefs, and their mission is to elevate awareness of local food sources for restaurants and educate the dining public about them.  This was their first big event, a fundraising effort to support a farmers’ fund sponsored by the local chapter of Slow Food.

This was a competition among chefs, but not like your typical “secret ingredient” cookoff.  No, this was a carve-off!  Almost 20 area chefs entered to compete for pride, public exposure, bragging rights and $100 cash.  They had two hours to carve their own pumpkins, while the public was invited to watch, mingle, drink local beer, eat popcorn, and vote for their favorites.

Miss Chef “invited” me to volunteer, so I showed up an hour early to set up tents, string lights, duct tape cords and direct traffic.  The carving began at precisely 4 pm, and though I was stuck at the side entrance for a while, and was hawking activity tickets, I did have plenty of time to circulate and see how things were going.

Some chefs used the traditional approach, with stencils and Halloween themes…

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Some did nontraditional themes that showcased their skills.  This is a student from Miss Chef’s school, who is from Thailand.  He was was assisting another Chef Instructor from the school.

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While she worked in a more typical stance, he made himself comfortable and delved into his work.

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Chef Adam was competing too.  I joked with him a bit, but he was atypically serious at times.



Then there were those chefs who really went all out.  One showed up with a monster---wish I’d been there to see them lift that up onto the table!

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Another had a multi-pumpkin storyline going on…

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There was a pretty good crowd gathered, and it was a great, kid-friendly event with face-painting, tattoos, a picture booth and a kids’ carving competition, too.  It was held at Atherton Market, a farmers’ market housed in an old cotton mill in Charlotte’s South End neighborhood.



Each chef was given a market stall to work.  Some of them shared space.  Many brought candy…to tilt the judges in their favor, perhaps.



Have you noticed the orange jack o’lantern buckets on each chef’s table?

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That was for the public to vote for their favorite pumpkins.  They could buy raffle tickets at $1 a pop and drop them into their chef’s bucket.  One person bought 40 tickets at one go!  In addition, after the votes were tallied, one ticket was selected from each bucket, and that person won that chef’s carved masterpiece to take home for their very own.

By six o’clock, several of the chefs had already finished.

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Then the call went out for knives down, and the lights were turned off so the jack o’lanterns could shine.

Which one would you vote for?

El día de los muertos?



A beautiful flower?



Old Man Winter?



A cannibalistic cyclops?  (There was a dry ice mist floating out through the mouth.)



A belligerent Yoda?



Or perhaps a prickle of hedgehogs?



I’ll tell you the winner in the comments, but I’ll tell you here that it’s not the one I would have voted for.  As it was, the tickets had to be counted three times to be sure, as the margin of victory was only seven points!

The Guild hasn’t had time yet to count up the proceeds, but I hope soon to learn how much money was raised for Slow Food Charlotte.  The lead organizer had counted on this being a one-time event, but everyone I talked to was already looking forward to next year.  Looks like the Guild just might have a new tradition on their hands!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ho Hum

I’ve been very withdrawn from all things bloggy lately.  Not only have I not been tickled by the writing muse, but I haven’t seemed to have the time to read all the interesting adventures on the blogs I follow.  In fact, one of those bloggers has just recently posted a farewell, having decided that a blog just doesn’t fit into her priorities anymore.

I get that.  I really, really do.  But I’m not ready to call it quits yet.

Still, there’s not much material rattling around in my brain these days.  Between still being obsessed with kitty play and having to really knuckle down at work, and some stultifying budget/schedule issues on the home front, I just haven’t felt very adventurous.  Even when we have broken out of the daily grind—an overdue paddle at the Whitewater Center, our annual visit to the Renaissance Festival—I haven’t even been inspired enough to pull out the camera.

I’m not too worried about it, though. I know blogs tend to go through ebbs and flows.  My muse will come back eventually.

Before I get into the boring, long-winded catch-up part of my post, here’s a dramatic evening light picture.



So here’s what’s been distracting me.  At work, I’ve exited the probationary period in my new position, and am still not up to speed on production.  My remote supervisors are mostly supportive, saying that my numbers are moving in the right direction, but each month I see “needs improvement,” I am quite dissatisfied.  So I am re-focusing, learning to set a new pace.  It’s rewarding, as all hard work should be, but it’s also quite jarring to be sitting in an office of people who have big gaps in their work day, who can set their own pace, and who often stop and chat for 10, 15, 30 minutes at a time.  I frequently have to cut conversations short because I can’t be away from the system too long. 

It wouldn’t be so bad if others were doing the same kind of work I am, and could carry on conversations as we work, rather than stopping everything to chat.  My saving grace is the online chat session I keep open with the other gals working remotely at other sites, ostensibly to ask questions of.  More often it serves as a vent, where I can rant that “VER made me do a SICA for 2.5 max, then it came back and gave me a max cap error for FFF!”  See?  Who else could understand that?

In spite of my seeming withdrawal, I do I feel like I’ve made some small steps toward recognition in the office.  I was tapped for our small Employee Appreciation Week committee, which organized daily fun events and activities throughout the week.  We had surprise bags of candy, a Jeopardy-style trivia game, office superlatives (best-dressed, etc).  I think the site manager noticed that I can organize and communicate better than average (really?  I was a TEACHER, for crying out loud, that’s what we DO!).  I don’t know that that will have any direct impact on my future work, but it can’t hurt to improve his opinion of me.

Here’s a Halloweeny picture of our Halloween kitty.



Back to work…I’ve also stepped up to become involved in a Charlotte-wide Volunteer Leadership Group for the various sites around town.  I didn’t know this, but our company, while headquartered in New York, has several other offices in town—a couple of mortgage sites, a payment-processing site, and some sort of investment-bank setup right uptown.  Our office has only about 30 people in it; the payment processing site has a couple of hundred.  The point of this volunteer group is to start organizing local company-sponsored events in support of non-profits.  We haven’t had a big enough presence to be automatically included in the kinds of things we see happening in the larger markets, but if we pool all the sites, we should be able to make a difference.  Not only am I on the leadership group, but I volunteered for the communications committee.

Because I like to communicate.  Naturally.

I’m kind of excited that our 3-person committee is meeting at the uptown site next week, because I’d like to see what the other offices look like and find out what they do.  It’s a great opportunity to network across “lines of business," as they’re called, because otherwise we have absolutely no contact with non-auto finance people.

So that’s work.  At home, the biggest news is that McKenna McKitty had her spay surgery two weeks ago.  Here she is last night, showing off her adorable pink shaved belly and the remains of her incision boo-boo.


She was a very good patient.  She didn’t bother her stitches, so we didn’t have to impose the Cone of Shame on her.  Convenient, yes, but I do regret a bit the missed photo opportunities that would have offered.  During her recovery she did slow down for a couple of days, but we hardly noticed, until she suddenly revved back up to speed, and we remembered how energetic she is normally.

Still, she is starting to calm down just a little as she passes the 6-month mark.  She doesn’t wake us up multiple times a night with kneading and jumping onto our nightstands, more like once a night with a single visit and her trademark trilling meow.  During the day, her play sessions are shorter and a bit less intense.  However, she does still use the living room as a parkour grounds at least once a day, running and jumping as fast as the eye can see from floor to chair, to couch, to table, to cat tree, to table, to floor, to dog, to hearth, to…  This is usually while I’m stumbling out from bedroom to living room in the dark of early morning, trying to get the dog outside to pee while keeping the cat inside, and sadly, it’s just a bit beyond my abilities to turn on the lights and grab the phone to get some video.

Another reason she may not need as much playtime is that we’ve been trying to give her time outside on the dog run.  The evening I went out to take that picture at the top of the post, I lay down on the ground to get a photo of her, and she immediately came over and started climbing on me.






Pardon the hair, it was a slob day on the weekend.

As for our other furry companion, Rosie is still Rosie.  She still doesn’t get enough walks, but she is ever-patient and calm.  A month or so ago, just when summer’s heat started to ease, I took her to the dog park, so she could happily ignore all the other dogs.

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She did sniff a few butts, but once we’ve traipsed the length of the park, she’s ready to go home.  I make her walk back through again, because it must be good for her, right? 

Sadly, the energetic kitty antics are far more interesting to photograph than a slow-moving black dog in low light, so, like a second child, she’s become a bit absent in my photo gallery.  How about a brief video of her sniffing butts at the dog park?  This starts out with a shot of her blonde doppelganger, before moving on to Rosie’s limited doggie social skills.


So that’s about all that’s worth mentioning.  I’m hoping that this coming weekend might be enough to get me out of my creative slump.  Not only are we going to the fair—a different one this year!—but Miss Chef is involved in a new professional organization that’s putting on their first big event.  I pledge to at least take a few pictures and post something about them here—because even if you’re not interested, I should be.  After all, it’s my life, I’d better take some interest!

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