Saturday, May 2, 2015

Food, flowers and Big Trip 2!

I was chatting the other day with my “boss” about my various paying gigs (she’s been a sort of acquaintance/friend for years, so it doesn’t feel like a typical boss-employee relationship), when she concluded, “It sounds to me like you’ve got four jobs.”

I try not to think of it that way. But I have been pretty busy.

On April 19th, my writing gigs got me a free pass as a media judge for one of the Competition Dining events being held in Charlotte. (Here’s one of the stories I wrote about it; in brief it’s a single-elimination bracket pitting a series of local chefs in secret ingredient matchups; the diners get to vote on each course without knowing which chef cooked what.) A couple weeks after I got my tickets, Miss Chef was invited to be a Pro judge for the same night—so we got to go together! And one of the organizers knew us, so we were seated together, even though we went via different organizations and had different contacts at the event.  Cool, huh?

There were six courses, but I won’t include all my photos. Here’s one of the apps:


It’s a tortellini made with purple sweet potato, wrapped around rock shrimp and accompanied by a bit of lobster tail. Poor me, right?

Actually, it was a challenge to keep up the flow of tweets, Instagram photos and Facebook updates while still tasting and entering my scores for each course. I normally wouldn’t blast out every single course of a dinner like this, but I figured I was there as a media person, so I was going to earn my dinner.

Here’s one of the desserts:


It’s an empanada, a cheesecake bite and toasted marshmallow, all made with different kinds of sweet potatoes. Oh, in case you hadn’t figured it out, the secret ingredient was five types of sweet potatoes, from five local farms. Both these dishes were by the winning chef, who defeated one of our good friends. I hated to see Chef Coleman go down, but it was a just victory, as he had some execution issues on a couple of his dishes. Besides, the winner was from last year’s state champion team, so it wasn’t exactly an easy battle.

As April wound down, I made a point of backing off on pitching stories, as I’d piled up too many deadlines before starting my two regular jobs and was about to have a nervous breakdown. So while I do still have some busy, busy days, I’ve finally started to have some free blocks of time. Of course, what else was I going to do with that during the lovely days of spring, but tend to my garden?


Although some of my herbs didn’t do well this winter, the spring garden is finally gaining way, and I’ve just put in my summer plants. You can see the squash and cucumber seed packets in front! On the left of the pathway, inside the stately row of tall garlic plants, the tomatoes have taken up residence. On the right side, you can see the peas finally making a break for the trellis, and the faintest of green smudges that are my tiny carrots and onions.



I didn’t do a great job of reviewing my companion planting information from last year’s workshop, but I do remember that onions chase away lots of pests, and they don’t need much room. So I’m happy to grow as many as I can get!

Here’s a view from the other end.


On the left are three tall stakes I’m using in a partial adaptation of the three sisters planting—no corn, but there are bean seeds at the bottom of each stake, and a squash seed in the center. Every year is an experiment in my garden. Now, I could also point out the two little bell pepper plants on the right side, but I doubt you can really see them, so you’ll just have to believe me. That thing you might want to think is a pepper plant is one of my three remaining broccoli plants. I don’t hold out much hope for a good harvest, as they’re still really small for this late in the spring. Still, I grew them from seed, so they’re gonna get a chance to prove themselves.

This past week I actually had an entire day off, with no writing deadlines, so I even had time to play with nonedible plants. These are some of the dozen or so marigold volunteers that came up in the garden. I potted some up to give away, because I couldn’t stand to toss them all in the compost pile.


A couple of Facebook friends queried whether I was sure they weren’t ragweed! After researching images, I can see why they’d be worried, but I’ve never had ragweed on my property, while I have had lots of prolific marigolds. I ended up planting one in a front bed, and look forward to teasingly posting photos of my “ragweed” flowers later this summer.

I also treated myself to some begonias and a decorative sweet potato vine for my big pot on the front stoop.


I love the white begonia flowers with the darker bronze leaves, but they can be really hard to find. I hit up a local nursery and got mostly white flowers. Close enough.

So, what’s this about Big Trip 2? If you were along for the ride four years ago, you’ll certainly remember our Big Trip to London and Paris. This one’s not quite that big, but this summer we’re finally heading off for another long flight—this time to San Francisco!

I’ve got family out there, including a 20-something cousin I’ve never met(!), and a Thai aunt who is all about some serious home cooking. Once again we are totally overplanning, but this time it’s Miss Chef scheduling everything. She’s already made two big reservations for us: at Coi, a hot new restaurant all about local food, and (drumroll) at the French Laundry, arguably the most influential restaurant in America in the past 20 years. It’s incredibly difficult to get reservations, and I never thought I’d get the chance to eat there. But Miss Chef was determined, and after an hour spent dialing and redialing and sitting on hold, she finally got us seats--at 9:15 pm. Better late than never, right?

I’d probably better stop eating tomorrow.

Anyway, we’re also hoping to do a day trip to Napa valley, and another to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, another bucket list item for both of us. I’m sure I’ll need another vacation to recover from this one, but life’s all about making memories, in my book.

Right now, though, I’ve got to make some clothes clean. So much for my glamorous lifestyle.


  1. We've got Niagara Falls coming up in June. So excited.

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  3. Exciting!!! I'm a terrible traveler but I like traveling vicariously, so I do hope you post about your trip.


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