Thursday, September 30, 2010

Farm to Table Dinner, This Summer's Last

Poplar Ridge Farm in Waxhaw, NC had the last of their series of 6 Farm to Table dinners tonight. It was the second one I've attended, and I'm already looking forward to next June.

Tonight it rained heavily. 50+ guests and no one bailed due to the weather.  That says a lot! There was a tent over the dining terrace, and the slightest autumn chill in the air.

I invited my realtor, Kim, who's become a friend. She's a native Charlottean, and had not heard of this event. It's fun to surprise a local!

Bonnie Warford, the co-owner of Carpe Diem restaurant in Charlotte, and her Executive Chef Paul Ketterhagen were at the helm in the kitchen. The veggies were grown at Poplar Ridge, the poultry, eggs, cream and goat cheese were sourced very locally.

We sipped Pimm's with cucumber and strawberries while we met our tablemates, one of whom I'd met at the previous dinner.

The menu

First course: Butternut Squash Bisque with Chipotle Croutons, and Grateful Growers Latin-spiced Bacon.
Wine pairing: Brocel Malbec.

The soup was smooth as silk and the chef cured the bacon himself.

When the second course was being prepared, we gathered in the presentation room. The Guest Speaker was Greg Pillar, Asst. Professor of Environmental Science and Chemistry, Queens University of Charlotte. He's partnered with Poplar Ridge Farm for 4 years, bringing students to learn about farming. He gave an interesting talk about growing and eating local food. It was enlightening to see what "one week of food" looks like when photographed in the U.S. and in Peru. No frozen food, cans or packaging at all in the latter...  It showed the *garbage* that we put into our systems and that we literally put into our environment.

Second course: Goat Cheese Panna Cotta, served with a salad of Arugula, Roasted Beets, Radishes, Walnut Pepper Brittle, and Port Wine Vinaigrette
Wine pairing: Jaboulet Cotes du Rhone Blanc

The panna cotta was light and silky, the beets were perfectly roasted. The salad, along with the radish and 'walnut pepper brittle' were a spicy foil.
 Third course: Braised Rhone Chicken au jus with Carmelized Carrots, Fingerling Potatoes and Turnips.
Wine pairing: Lazaret Cotes du Ventoux

This entree screamed, "Autumn!"

 Fourth Course: Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice Pudding with Roasted Plums and Pistachio Biscotti
Wine Pairing: Volpi Moscadoro Moscato

Flavors and textures--pure perfection!

Kudos to the chefs and to the farm owners and staff for another wonderful collaboration. For a little town, Waxhaw's got some good stuff happening.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New Technology, Old Values

I just started banking online this summer. Very late to the party, and still a hesitant guest. My debit card was skimmed/compromised last summer...and I'm skittish.

I admit that I do like the convenience of paying bills online. Transfer funds, press a button, save a stamp, avoid late fees. No chance of forgetting that stack of bills tucked into the car's sun visor. Though George Costanza's fiancee died from licking "bad glue" on her wedding invitation envelopes (I didn't really happen, Seinfeld is a sit com), the taste is a trigger for me. Memories of a time before stamps turned to stickers.

We live in a "I want it yesterday" world. Business proposals and reports sent from a wi fi hotspot, e-mails being answered while on vacation "just to stem the tide." No more notes being passed in class, send a text and pix, tweens are too naive to know the consequences of those being forwarded. The dog can't eat your homework if its saved in a Word file.

My niece and nephews will never know the adventure that was banking in the 60's and 70's. Open an account, get a blanket or a toaster! Mom would roll up to the drive-in window in her burgundy convertible LeMans, long brown ponytail, sunglasses, Eve cigarette, and four kids in the back seat. No booster seats, no seatbelts. "His leg is touching mine!!"

We'd stop pinching each other (for a minute) and watch, rapt, as our mother put white yellow and pink slips of paper into a plastic container, that got sucked into the bank. A few minutes later it came back out in a mechanical drawer, full of money and lollipops! I loved the bank!!

Charlotte, NC has a small-town feel. I was inside the bank the other day and watched as a teller greeted a drive-up customer. She was pretty loud on that mike, going on about vacations and summer news. Her colleagues didn't shuush her, they were all chatting too. Through the drive up window I could see it was a family with about 5 kids. One kid climbed over a seat and asked about the teller's dog. She took out her cellphone, pulled up a photo of the dog, put the phone in the automated drawer, the carload all ooohed and ahhed while they passed the phone around..then the dad put the phone back into the drawer.

The perfect mix of new technology and old values.

There is no bullet proof plexiglass separating the lobby from the tellers. We exchanged pleasantries, I did my banking, and I availed myself of the lollipops in a vase on the counter. They still look the same as they did when I was a kid. Ribbed cellophane, straightforward flavors, smaller than a Charms and bigger than a TootsiePop. Generic but comforting.

When life offers you a lollipop, take it!

Slow down. Make a phone call instead of sending a text. Write a letter on paper and address an envelope. It'll feel good and it'll be appreciated. You can bank on it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Savannah, Georgia

I grew up on Long Island, NY and have lived both in Manhattan and on the Queens side of the East River. I've travelled to about 20% of the world. Not nearly enough!! I made the big move to Charlotte, NC this summer.

I've seen so many interesting images over the years, but I've missed the opportunity to capture them, mostly because I'd leave my camera home during my day-to-day, work-a-day existence. I always meant to go back to Rt 25A in Flushing, NY to snap a photo of a Live Bait shop that was next to a sushi restaurant. I love graphics, words and landscapes moreso than photographing people.

With the daily grind of work in NYC behind me, and while I've not yet found "what's next" work-wise in Charlotte...I'm taking the time to look and to really 'see.' And I keep my camera nearby.

This past weekend my friend Jane, a recent empty-nester and I, drove to Savannah, Georgia. 4 hours, a straight shot down I-95.  We stayed at the Hamilton Turner Inn, an historic B&B on Lafayette Square. Savannah is a city of Squares, gas lamps, live oak and magnolia trees and "tabby' sidewalks made from crushed oyster shells.

We golfed, walked, talked, saw fireworks over the River, did a bit of shopping, took an overview trolley tour  and the "Paula Deen" tour, which took us to the outskirts. A great girl's getaway!

Here's how I saw it...

First impression. We arrived at 9pm, under a tunnel of massive Live Oaks with hanging Spanish Moss. We were told the next day that tourists sometimes pull the moss down and wear it around their necks. That is, until they realize that there are red bugs and chiggers living in it. Gack!! In days of yore, the moss was used to stuff furniture, once the bugs were smoked out.

The Hamilton Turner Inn. We had a room in the Carriage House.

Carriage House living room. It was nice to have an alternative space as our room was tiny!

Nightly turn down, fluffy robes.

Chocolates on the telephone table, with a handwritten welcome note from innkeepers Gay and Jim Dunlop.
The Parlor, Main House. Coffee table books, hot bevvies, lemonade, sweet tea, wine, hor's d, port and the daily paper. Very relaxing! All that plus breakfast for $199/nite.

Breakfast each morning. Day 1 Stuffed French Toast. Day 2 Veggie Fritatta over Cheese Grits. Whoa. Ate half and had little or no room for yogurt, fruit, biscuit or muffin. Walked it off all day!

Lovely yard at the B&B

Parker's Garage and Market--gas station and gourmet food!

Topiaries flanking the gas pumps. Tres chic.

Wines and food to go at Parker's

We followed the sound of fireworks for ten minutes til we saw them lighting up the sky, down on River Street. A pyrotechnic convention was in town--this was a nice gesture for the city.
The Waving Girl, waiting for her lover to return from the sea. His ship disappeared and she waved and waited for 40 years, until she died. 
60's architecture at the edge of the Historic District. Lax rules!

The Club at Savannah Harbor. What a gorgeous course. It was raining just north in SC, but we had perfect weather.

There was a gator on the 7th green. The ranger drove up and told us he couldn't get it to budge, so we should take a par, and keep going! On the 17th hole, I inadvertently hit my ball a few yards from a huge gator that was yawning and either angry or hungry, next to a swamp, short of the green. Jane and I went to scoop the ball up and our golf cart got stuck. We forgot that the starter told us that the carts' power cuts off on Par 3's. Weird and very inconvenient at that precise moment. You never saw people move faster to push a cart! We found out later that "Yeah, he's a big one. He'll run after you alright, but only so far because he's got 3 legs." Well, 9 feet trumps 3 legs in my calculations!!! We were OUTTA there!  And that's no fish story!

Aptly named hole!

The skies were so painterly.

We took the Paula Deen Tour, which took us out of the city, to Whitemarsh and Wilmington Islands. I'm a fan of Deen, a Food Network star, and was glad that Jane wanted to take the tour. Paula lost her parents when she was 19 and 23. She was an agoraphobic single mother who worked hard to build her catering business. It grew in less than 20 years from simple bag lunches delivered to offices by her sons, followed by running the kitchen at a Best Western hotel. She's now at the helm of a multimillion dollar empire---books, appearances, cooking shows, a food and cookware line. She is a true daughter of Savannah, and gives back to her city. Her sons manage The Lady and Sons.

The tour company's proposal offered her a cut of the revenue and she refused, preferring that they make donations to her local charities. I like her story. 
The Old Buggy Road, at the Bethesda School for Boys. In operation since 1740! Paula Deen married river pilot Michael Groover in the school's chapel, below. The chapel interior is very simple, with well worn pews.

Artwork on the school farm's fence. The school is the oldest in the U.S. for 'boys in transition' and the mission is hard work, love of God and school.

We stopped at this produce stand on the way.

Muscadines and Scupperdongs---big ole grapes.

I can cross "boiled green peanuts" off my bucket list. They need salt, but they're not bad. Kinda mushy.

Paula designed the tour NOT to stop at The Lady & Sons in town because she has more business than she can handle. Instead, the tour includes lunch at her brother's place, on Whitemarsh Island. It's called Uncle Bubba's Oyster House. I guess it's to be expected that for tourists, there is a back room reserved. We were herded in along with another group and sat cafeteria style, for a "Country Boil." Regular diners can order from the menu. Bubba and Paula are victims of their own success...and they are churning out buffet food for 1000's to keep up with the demand.

Pulled pork, lima beans, fried shrimp, cole slaw, fried fish and a little corn muffin. I would never order this from a was 'ok' but lunch was a cattle call.

Bubba's is on a marsh and off in the distance, you can see the back of Paula's roof. Nice setting. Local boy done good.

The weekend was great and we got a nice overview of a charming city. I'd head back that way to wander and explore Edisto and Hilton Head, and surrounding towns. Maybe drive to Jacksonville, FL. I can tick Savannah off my list of places I've visited. I wonder if I'm up to 21% of the world?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Calendar vs. Thermometer

Tomorrow is September 22, the first day of Fall! New York friends are letting me know they're stoking the first fires of the season, and that the air is crisp. In Charlotte, North Carolina the temps are hovering at and above 90. It figures. I move here and there have been nearly 80 days over 90 degrees...double the usual # for any summer in recent memory. At least the humidity has diminished. I will get my reward, soon enough! Temps will drop after next week, and I'm in for a long autumn, a mild winter, and an early Spring. The golf clubs will stay within reach.

My internal culinary equinox shifted to Autumn tonight. I baked Pumpkin bread in my gleaming new oven.

I have some nice people I'd like to thank for their kindness to me, in welcoming me to the neighborhood. I was invited by a neighbor to The Levine Museum of the New South. There's a lecture tomorrow night for 'New Southerners' and we'll be given a copy of  "Living Here" the annual magazine published for newcomers. After the program, there's a wine and Southern fried chicken dinner. I'm really looking forward to this event!

I'll say thank you with Pumpkin bread on the first day of Fall.

It's too soon for pumpkins at farmstands, so I used a can of organic pumpkin puree.

Ready for wrapping and some ribbon.