Archive for October, 2009

And a Happy Hallowiener to you!

October 30, 2009

Like the Great Pumpkin rising again, we bring you the Hallowiener wiener dogs, Sabrina the Good Witch and Roxy the Great Pumpkin, canine style. There’s really nothing more to say that hasn’t already been said here. It’s a Hallowiener tradition!

Sabrina the Good Witch




Fried pickles, meet chocolate-covered bacon

October 27, 2009

200910_51c_NC State Fair

Diane helps out with deep-fried pickles

Like the teetotaler who gets drunk at her cousin’s wedding, I, a fairly healthy eater who really dislikes the taste of processed foods, went overboard at the North Carolina State Fair. I usually don’t. But this time I did.

I’d been working so hard for weeks and needed a big release. What could be bigger than our state’s huge annual fair, attended by some 878,000 people over 10 days.

Mostly we go for the agricultural exhibits (like you read Playboy for the fiction). But really, I love the giant pumpkins and watermelons and the well-kept cows and goats and chickens, and I so want one of those adorable miniature donkeys.

200910_52_NC State Fair

How can one forget this delicacy?

As we hit the first midway, I mentioned to Wessel how much I enjoyed our deep-fried pickles the last time.

“I don’t remember that,” he said. “I don’t think I had any.“

“Of course you did; how could you forget?” I said. “Look, there they are.” I pointed to a stand.

He had to “try” some. He couldn’t eat all six on his own, so I was enlisted to help.

And we were off.

Next on the list: the fair’s latest offering. No, not the deep-fried butter. The chocolate-covered bacon. (It’s actually a gourmet treat, though typically made with much finer meat and cocoa. My favorite truffle maker, Deans Sweets in Portland, Maine, keeps threatening to add them to his repertoire. Do it, Dean!)

200910_54_NC State Fair

Are the innards of bacon blasphemy or blessing for the chocolate connoisseur?

I was starting to get panicked because I couldn’t find a chocolate bacon stand. Just as Wessel was trying to talk me down, there it was! And for only $3.50. The salty and sweet combined for a lip-smacking taste treat — on a stick, of course. Bacon and chocolate, meet pickle and grease.

Then came a shared cup of chilled apple cider as we watched a bluegrass band, which happened to be set up dangerously close to the kettle corn stand. At least I ordered a small.

When Wessel asked if I wanted my usual ham biscuit at one of the church fund-raising restaurants, I had enough sense to say no.

200910_58_NC State Fair

The Ferris wheel is our big thrill

We took an eating interlude, midway- hopping until we reached “our” Ferris wheel, one of the three at the fair. It looks down on the always hoppin’ Himalaya, with fierce tunes blaring, and the crazy Pharaoh’s Fury, a Cleopatra-style open seated gondola sort of thing that swings back and forth at increasingly angular pitches. I would definitely not be able to hold down aforementioned delicacies. The Ferris wheel, on the other hand, is totally tame, some would say lame. I love it.

200910_59_NC State Fair

Wessel digs into his long-awaited Italian sausage sandwich

On the way out, Wessel finally ordered his long-awaited Italian sausage sandwich, with fries. At a certain point, he needed my assistance. Being the ever-supportive spouse, I obliged. Italian sausage and fries, meet kettle corn and chocolate bacon and ….

Need I mention that we skipped dinner?

She makes magical menorahs (and more)

October 19, 2009
A trademark handcrafted sculptural menorah by Sue Treuman

Trademark handcrafted ceramic menorah by North Carolina artist Sue Treuman

I recently wrote the piece below, about the fabulous ceramic sculptor Sue Treuman, for my regular artisan column in the News & Observer. Her work is sold nationwide and  menorah prices range from around $95 to $250. Google her name and you’ll find stores that sell it. It’s amazing!  Here’s the article:

The aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted ceramic sculptor and musician Sue Treuman and her husband, Bill, to look for a more low-key place to live. She grew up in New York, and had spent most of her adult life not far away, but moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 2007.

Despite the emotional and economic trauma of 9/11, Treuman said it was a dream a few months earlier that affected her most.

“It was the end of the world, and everyone was running around trying to get what they could get, just running around like crazy,” she recalled. “I walked through the crowd and decided I didn’t want to do that. I walk through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and there are poets and singers singing their songs. I see everyone expressing themselves. It’s all about creating one’s life and doing what one needs to do. It changed my life.”

Single woman menorah

Some of her menorahs focus on one figure

While she had been making art for decades, Treuman, 62, became more focused and more appreciative of her creative community. When she and Bill decided to move, that was key.

“Family, community, connections, generations; that’s what’s important to me,” she said. They spent two years in Northampton, Mass., but Bill wanted to move south.

Then she saw Weaver Street Market, the cooperative grocery store and gathering spot in Carrboro, near the boundary of Chapel Hill. “I said, ‘OK, I can live here.’ It speaks of community, and that’s what my work is about.”


Sue's work often depicts family, community, and connections

Indeed, community and family are themes that run through Treuman’s work, especially in the pieces for which she is national recognized: menorahs, the candelabrums used during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Each is a masterpiece of ceramic sculpture, depicting one to nine figures in clay often in motion, perhaps dancing, playing music or praying.

She got the idea about 30 years ago, and over the years, they have become more sculptural, textured and detailed, she said.

“I celebrate the culture of being Jewish, and Hanukkah is one of my favorite Jewish holidays, because you sing,” said Treuman, who composes music, plays the guitar and sings.

“It’s the story of the miracle of light, that the oil that was supposed to burn for one day burned for eight days.”

A handcrafted sculptural menorah

Menorahs are used during Hanukkah, which this year starts Dec. 12

In her 20s, while working out of a co-op art studio in the Bronx, Treuman’s pottery was for the most part functional. But as her work evolved, she moved more into sculptural pieces, especially the human form, and the menorahs were the perfect stage.

“These are functional, sculptural, and spiritual, synthesized in a ritual form,” she said. “There’s something about making an object of ritual use that people will touch and use. For me personally, I need my stuff to be touched.”


Sue shapes the stoneware clay with her hands and a potters' wheel

Treuman works on them year-round, in parts, storing limbs in different boxes. “My husband calls them the body snatchers,” she said with a laugh. She shapes the stoneware clay with her hands and a potters’ wheel, and each menorah has textures pressed into it, not carved.

“I do series, and though some might look the same, they’re all different. They’re fired twice, glazed, and then I enhance them. The faces have to be worked on to bring out detail, and I’ll use different lusters and acrylic colors.”

She sells the menorahs in galleries around the country, and they will be among the work on display at her home studio during Orange County Open Studios in the first two weekends of November.

Godess pot

A day with friends inspired 'Goddess pots,' Sue's most recent creation

More recently, the sculptural series Treuman has been concentrating on is her “goddess pots,” vessels decorated with a fantastical woman’s face or torso.

“They were conceived after spending a day egg-painting with a group of women,” she said. “For some reason, being with a group of women always gets my creative juices flowing. I woke up in the middle of the night and said, ‘My next project will be goddess pots,’ and I drew everything out.

Goddess pot

Goddess pots celebrate womanhood

“I wanted it to be women vessels, women holding space, and it turned into open vessels that became women, and then a venue for making different faces, hair, textures. Some are very, very big. I do make some smaller ones, but I usually sell them to private collectors.”

Since moving to the area, Treuman has gathered together a new group of women.

“I literally found one woman weaving in her front garden. I’ve never been so bold,” she said. “We dance and sing and eat and laugh. We have fun. The group is dedicated to the spirit of being a woman and what wonderful things women can do and be.”

Big reward for little effort at Great Smokies

October 13, 2009
Buildings at Mountain Farm Museum

Buildings at Mountain Farm Museum

October is a peak season at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most heavily visited national park in the country, with more than 9 million visitors a year. Despite all those people milling about, it’s still amazingly easy to get away from them. Some, of course, don’t leave their cars, and others don’t venture down trails. With only a few hours to spare, we did both, and were majorly rewarded for a minor effort.

Great Smokies 75th anniversary

Great Smokies' 75th anniversary

We started our afternoon at the park at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, two miles north of Cherokee. It being July Fourth weekend, the place was packed. After a tour of the fascinating outdoor Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of preserved historic log buildings gathered from throughout the Smoky Mountains, we were itching to take a walk, but didn’t want to drive for an hour to reach some of the more remote trailheads.

A ranger told us about the Kephart Prong Trail (a prong is a bend in the river), a four-mile roundtrip hike that crosses the Oconaluftee River six times. Perfect! Oddly, the trail isn’t marked from the road nor is it on the basic park maps, which probably contributed to the fact that we passed only a few other people during one of the park’s busiest weekends.

Tree pose on footbridge for beginners

Tree pose for beginners on footbridge

The trailhead is only seven miles beyond the visitor center. Look to the right for a small parking area on the right, and a footbridge, the first river crossing. The other river crossings were not really bridges but logs, some more secure than others, but all with a railing, so not too much balance was required. That’s a good thing, because no matter how many times I do an erect “tree” pose during yoga, get me on a log over water and I’m like jelly.

Bright red bee balms are found along the Kephart Prong Trail

Bright red bee balms are found along the Kephart Prong Trail

The wooded hike, mostly along the river, was just lovely, and I wish we could see it this month when the leaves start to change. The trail is an old road-bed, so the walk is quite easy, with only 800 feet of elevation gain, most of it on the way in. It’s an up-and-back, not a loop. Along the trail in the woods are a few remains of a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp, there from 1933-42. Turnaround is at a nice backcountry shelter. No one had set up there, so we stretched out on the platforms for a little contemplation of nature. Wessel was snoring in no time.

Water flows down a millrace to the mill

Water flows down a millrace to the mill

On the way out of the park we stopped at Mingus Mill, a 1886 grist mill that uses a water-powered turbine to power all of the machinery in the building. The mill is operated daily from mid-March through mid-November, with a miller demonstrating how corn is ground into cornmeal, which was for sale there. In a break from tradition, the corn was shipped in from the Midwest. I can think of only one word to appropriately express my disappointment. Shucks.

We heart (spoon) Gourmet

October 7, 2009

200910_15_Gourmet coverThe very day (Oct. 5) it was announced that Conde Nast was shuttering Gourmet magazine after 69 years of service, I had started a pitch letter to an editor there. Well, that was not meant to be. Not that I’m feeling bad for myself, when dozens of employees are now out of work. Welcome to the world of freelancing, my friends.

Meanwhile, I felt nostalgic for the first little piece I wrote for Gourmet in 2002. I’m thrilled to report that the subject — Beehive Kitchenware Co. — is not only still in business but thriving, with many gorgeous new pieces in its cupboards. Read on:

From the February 2002 issue of Gourmet (click on the cover above and you can see article. Woo-hoo, technology!):

Spoons for lighthearted and heavyhearted ingredients

The spoons that launched a dozen magazine articles, mine included

Some men give their sweethearts flowers for Valentine’s. Not Jim Dowd. He made girlfriend Sandra Bonazoli a pancake turner, the spatula end shaped like a heart, the handle resembling cupid’s arrow. A few years later, it ended up being one of the couple’s first in a collection of handmade cookware. After Dowd, a custom metal fabricator, and Bonazoli, a jeweler (both are 33 and have masters’ in fine arts), married in 1998, they looked for a joint project. Bonazoli, whose family owned a neighborhood restaurant in Newton, Mass., for two generations, already had a fondness for kitchenware. “One day she was waxing about how new kitchen utensils work well, but they don’t have the soul that a lot of older ones do,” recollects Dowd. “So we said, ‘why don’t we make them?’ ” Now their company, Beehive Kitchenware Co., based in Fall River, Mass., has a line of 13 pieces (and growing) and two production assistants. (UPDATE: I count 37 on their website in 2009.)

Now that's my cup of tea!

Now that's my cup of tea!

Hearts show up in much of their work, including a pewter tea strainer and rest, coffee scoop, and measuring spoons. A set of spice spoons takes care of recipes that call for a “dash,” “pinch” or “smidgen.” Hearts also are found in the etched patterns of Beehive’s copper and silver-plated measuring cups. “Hearts are traditional and even kind of corny, but people really respond to them,” Dowd says. “What we’ve tried to do, instead of take kitchen utensils and try to slap something on them, we try to incorporate the heart into the design so it seems a little more seamless.”

Cupid's best baking friend

Cupid's best baking friend

Also traditional are their fabrication methods. “In order for us to make these things we needed old equipment.” From an antique tool broker they found an old wiring machine and other traditional metal-smithing pieces.

For new ideas, “we look at a lot of examples of folk art,” Dowd says. Beehive’s newest offering is a pizza wheel cutter with an ivory-colored resin handle, based on a 19th-century scrimshaw-decorated cutter they saw at the New Bedford (Mass.) Whaling Museum.

Diane’s 2009 update: I don’t see the scrimshaw-inspired cutter in their list of products. You can purchase items from that products page, or, for a list of brick-and-mortar outlets that carry Beehive products,  go here. Happy shopping!

NC chefs tell all, with recipes

October 5, 2009

200910_04_book Ann ProsperoChefs are like rock stars and athletes. They switch from place to place, working their way up the food-service pyramid. A writer pal of mine, Ann Prospero, has interviewed the best chefs in my area of North Carolina in her “Chefs of the Triangle: Their Lives, Recipes, and Restaurants.” We learn how they moved up, over, and around to become forces in food. We’re even treated to a few recipes from each.

Ann, by the way, is a wise author — for her book signings, she brings along chefs, and they bring along samples. The reading I went to, at Regulator Bookshop, featured Durham restaurateurs Jim Anile from Revolution, not yet a year old but buzz-worthy, and Shane Ingram, whose celebrated Four Square Restaurant turns an impressive 10 years old this month. It was great to hear them talk about their work and even better to sample their wares — fig gazpacho from Shane (the recipe is in the book) and, from Jim, butterbean hummus crustini with marinated octopus. Yum!

Author Ann Prospero

Durham author Ann Prospero

While I realize most of my readers live far from my home state, you should know that we have some mighty fine restaurants here in Durham and environs. In 2008, Bon Appetit magazine rightly named us “America’s Foodiest Small Town,” although they were talking about two towns, Durham and Chapel Hill, but whatever. We’ll take it.

Chefs Jim Anile and Shane Ingram co-hosted the book reading

Chefs Jim Anile, left, and Shane Ingram spoke and served food at the reading

As Ann points out, it was the late chef Bill Neal of Crook’s Corner who really got the dough rolling by mentoring and inspiring others, who in turn did the same thing for their colleagues in the kitchen. Crook’s is still going strong under chef and cookbook writer Bill Smith, a culinary force in his own right. Lucky us!

Civil rights road trip through Alabama

October 1, 2009

(“Where they Went,” published July 5, 2009, Boston Globe)

Mary Plummer (left) and Maddy Entel dining outside at Nancy Paterson's Bistro in Montgomery, AL

Mary Plummer (left) and Maddy Entel take a break from touring in Montgomery, Ala.

WHO: Madeleine Entel, 58, of Wellfleet, , Mass. and Mary Plummer, 67, of Worcester, Mass.

WHERE: Alabama.

WHEN: A week in January.

WHY: “We’d talked about doing a civil rights trip for some time,’’ Plummer said. “We were particularly interested in visiting the Southern Poverty Law Center. We’ve both been members for quite a long time, at least since the ’80s.’’ The coincidental timing of their trip, the week before Martin Luther King Day and President Obama’s inauguration, made the visit even more meaningful, she said.

Mary walks into the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery

Visiting the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery was a highlight

NO PLACE FOR HATE: Because the women are longtime members of the center, known for its tolerance education and legal battles against hate groups, they were able to get a tour of its Montgomery headquarters. “It’s a beautiful modern building down the street from the capitol. There are no signs on the building, which is highly secured, but when you go in, you get a wonderful welcome and the building inside is very open,’’ Plummer said. “We were there two hours and our guide took us to all four floors. We saw where they do the publication Teaching Tolerance and where the lawyers work. They deal with specific cases of hate crimes and intolerance. We even got to meet Joe Levin, one of the cofounders. That was quite something. It was all very impressive. All the other things we saw all week were memorialized in the past, but here it’s an ongoing process, working in the present.’’

Maddy in front of the Civil Rights Memorial

Maddy poses in front of the memorial, designed by famed architect Maya Lin

MOVING MEMORIAL: Across the street, they visited the Civil Rights Memorial Center, sponsored by the Law Center and best known for its memorial designed by architect Maya Lin. “Water rolls down over a quote of Dr. King, ‘until justice rolls down like waters,’ and over a round slab with names of people honored. You’re encouraged to touch it,’’ Plummer said.

Historic sign commemorating Rosa Parks` role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Historic sign commemorates Rosa Parks` role in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott

SITES OF RIGHTS AND WRONGS: Other stops in Montgomery included “the First White House of the Confederacy,’’ the former home of Jefferson Davis, head of the Confederacy; the historic Cloverdale neighborhood; Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts; the Troy University Rosa Parks Museum; and Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where King once served as pastor.

BIRMINGHAM BOUND: A 90-minute drive north took the women to Birmingham, where they spent hours at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a museum covering the history of civil rights, and visited the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four girls were killed in a racially motivated bomb attack in 1963. They found time for culture, too, visiting the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and the Birmingham Art Museum. “We really enjoyed the quilts from Gee’s Bend.’’ After a week in the South, she said, they were getting used to warmer weather, lower prices, and “a lot of y’alls.’’