After our unexciting weekend in Elkin last month, Miss Chef and I wanted to get back to our real mountain adventures and apple picking. Usually we go for our anniversary, closer to the end of the month, but with her quarter break this past week and a full docket coming up later on, we decided to get out there while the getting was good.
As it turned out, Miss Chef had more preparation than usual for the upcoming quarter, so we really only had one day to play with. We drove to Flat Rock late on Wednesday, then rose early on Thursday to head out to Skytop Orchard, where we’ve gotten apples the past 3 or 4 years.
It was foggy when we left the hotel, but by the time we arrived at the orchard and headed down—and up, and down—the slopes with our baskets, the skies were clear. We managed to draw away from the multiple school and church groups full of excited children, and had the Cortland row to ourselves.
Most of the trees were picked out, or had only green apples within our reach. We had to walk nearly to the end of the row before finding trees with ripe fruit low enough for picking, but in the end, we had more than enough to fill our baskets.
Then we had to carry them back uphill to the store to pay for them, along with several more varieties, to fill Miss Chef’s annual yen for apples.
After lugging a bushel of apples plus two gallons of fresh cider out to the car, we returned empty handed for our reward: hot, fresh apple cider donuts, plush an applelicious slushy.
The road down from the orchard is a steep, torturous drive, but having driven it several times made it easier to maneuver. It also helped that the leaves haven’t turned yet, so I wasn’t distracted by gorgeous fall color. Who knew I’d ever be grateful for missing the date?
Our next destination was Asheville itself. We had an hour or so before our lunch reservations at—where else?—Cúrate. We parked on the street, right next to this fun wall of inspiration.
This wall has been here for years, protecting a fall-off between two buildings. Turning it into an artful community conversation exemplifies the character of this city.
After lunch it was my turn to visit a new favorite.
My name is Alison, and I am a chocoholic. And I’m very okay with that.
The day was on the warm side, so we did a little “housekeeping,” to get a cooler and ice to keep our cider (and chocolate) from melting. After a short break back at the hotel, we returned to Asheville for dinner at Rhubarb. We’d been wanting to eat here since seeing their menu go up at their doorway on Pack Square, but they’d been closed the one other time we’d had a gap in our eating schedule. Yes, when we travel, our days are planned around our meals.
I didn’t take any photos inside Rhubarb, but here are a couple I found on the web.
The entry area, with a simple, gaze-pulling display of wooden spoons.
The main dining area is through that arched doorway, and this is the area where we were seated.
I’m not sure of the story behind that rough wall, but I spent half the night trying to decipher the lettering barely visible in the patchy green paint. All I got was “the.” I think.
The food here is much like what we seek out at home—locally grown, creatively combined without too much manipulation. Our two favorites were a rabbit-and-leek rillette served with house-made “sel-tine” crackers, and the “Autumn sharing salad.” A dark green salad with goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds was built atop a roasted kabocha squash. Miss Chef discovered this squash a couple of years ago, but we could never remember the name, always confusing it with kombucha, a fermented tea drink she’s brewed in the past. Anyway, Miss Chef liked the salad so much she’s stealing the idea for a farm dinner she’s helping with next month.
Stealing is accepted practice among chefs. I think sounds better if you use the words “inspired by.”
Friday morning we were up and out of the hotel, headed for home. Miss Chef was anxious to get into the school to rework her menus and recipes—she’d been informed after finishing them earlier in the week that budget cuts meant she had to slash her food costs, a difficult prospect when you’re trying to teach fine cuisine with local product. I stayed at home to unpack and reassure our pets that the world had not ended and they were not to be abandoned.
Also to prepare for a big Fancy Party. The local paper I freelance for does an annual Best of Charlotte issue, with both critics’ and readers’ picks for everything from best barber shop to best farm-to-table restaurant. I’d received a mailed invitation to the VIP pre-party, and thought it was a good opportunity to see my editor and meet some of the other staff. You see, I met my editor once at a coffee shop back in May, and everything since then has been via email. I’ve been asked in conversation if I know this editor or that staff writer; people must think I’m dropping off hard copies at the office every week. I don’t even know where their offices are!
Somewhere in this entertainment complex north of Uptown sits my editor.
Anyway, neither Miss Chef or I were looking forward to this gala event. For me, it was mostly because of the cocktail attire. I didn’t even think I had a dress anymore that would fit me, since I’d moved to mostly slacks or skirts at work. Fortunately, I had unburied one in my closet, so felt more or less prepared. But I was still groggy from our quick out-of-town trip, and neither I nor Miss Chef are particularly into small talk over drinks with folks we don’t know.
Sadly, the party lived down to and even beneath our expectations. There didn’t seem to be anyone filling the role of host, nor any plan for the event, aside from a few drag numbers that I mostly missed, due to the poor audio from the stage. I was expecting some kind of welcome, an introduction of the judging panel or an awards ceremony, but after the drag queens left the stage, there was nothing to watch but the crowd.
Most of the attendees were young, see-and-be-seen professionals that continue to live the college party life after graduation. Miss Chef and I were both surprised not to know anybody there aside from the folks behind a couple of the food tables.The music was far too loud to carry on a conversation, so the idea of mingling and networking was just plain irritating. I had a couple glasses of wine to help ease my irritation, but it was mediocre, and the only food was small bites from three of the nominated restaurants. Yes, the paper’s staff was nowhere to be found, while the honorees were asked to work the event!
After an hour of sipping insipid wine and making ourselves hoarse trying to talk over the din, Miss Chef and I absconded for dinner elsewhere. We went a few blocks up Tryon Street to The Wooden Vine, a tapas and wine bar we’ve enjoyed before. I let Miss Chef do most of the ordering.
My camera wasn’t focusing any better than my eyes, apparently. At the top, from left to right you see locally-made burrata (seasoned ricotta inside a mozzarella skin), roasted brussels sprouts and braised short rib with hominy corn. On the bottom, roasted potato, and tortellini with house-made ricotta .
Chef Nick, whom I recently interviewed for an upcoming “Chef Horror Stories” piece, was working his last weekend prior to leaving to open his own place. He also had a big party in the back of the restaurant, so most of this was not up to his usual level. The tortellini made me very happy, though.
The pea sprouts are from Mindy at Tega Hills. I delivered those pea sprouts here for a couple of weeks, back in June. I love seeing the whole trajectory of food from greenhouse to plate.
After dinner we had an easy stroll about 4 blocks to the car. Though small, Charlotte’s downtown area is really charming at night; much more bustling than the dead business blocks I saw growing up near Cleveland, and of course the weather here is much more benign.
I stopped to take a couple of pictures.
A fountain in front of Capital Grille…
…and the top of the Hearst Tower rising in the mist, where Miss Chef searched to no avail for the Bat Signal.
It had been a long day, and we both had to remind ourselves it was only that morning we’d arrived back from Asheville. I was very happy to crawl into my own bed and lay my head on my own pillow.
And while Miss Chef crawled out of bed with the first glow of the morning sun, I stayed put. Yes, this Saturday I skipped the markets entirely.
I guess that counts as vacation, right?