Archive for April, 2010

Delta does it again

April 29, 2010

I fly mostly Southwest and Delta. Seems I’m always writing love letters to Southwest and the opposite to Delta. Here’s the latest.

Wessel and I were booked on a flight from NC to Amsterdam, via Atlanta on Wednesday, with a comfy two-hour connection window. On Monday, we got word that the flight was canceled and they were routing us through Detroit, with only a 45-minute connection. That always makes me nervous, but there it was.

Sure enough, the plane left NC 30 minutes late. To top things off, once we got in, with just enough time to spare if we were quick, the plank between the airport and the plane didn’t work properly and we were stuck on the plane for an extra five minutes, maybe more. Even the pilot was yelling at the terminal workers to get moving. When the plank went down, about five of us did our best OJ sprints (remember those?) to our gates a half a mile away. (Of course I asked every Delta person I could to please advise the Amsterdam flight that we were on our way.)

Wessel made it there first, JUST as they were closing the door. Seriously. Not only would they not let us on the plane – here’s the totally annoying part – they said they had no record of us (thanks for alerting the gate, Delta folks) and that the computer had already rebooked us to leave the next day. (We heard different stories from different Delta people about this process.) We managed to get hotel and meal vouchers, and took an overnight kit in lieu of waiting two hours to get our luggage.

Things happen, and though this is a terrible inconvenience, causing us to miss Queen’s Day Eve festivities tonight (waaaaaaaahhhh….),  miss seeing a dear friend, and to pay for a hotel in Amsterdam we’re not using, etc., I realize it’s not the biggest deal in the world. It’s not a weeklong stay because of volcanic ash.

But what really gets to me, and what we the people remain up in arms about, is the airlines’ lack of caring about individuals. You’re a cog in the machine, and if your situation doesn’t fit their machine, even if they caused the situation, so be it.

Rant concluded.


Eat your yard, or the nearby farm

April 27, 2010

Two North Carolina women I admire have recently come out with local-foods books I admire. Buy them! (please…)

Nan Chase eats crabapples from her yard (photo Rebecca D'Angelo)

“Eat Your Yard!” by Nan K. Chase is uber-local. It’s about trees, shrubs, vines, herbs and flowers for your yard and your kitchen, with recipes, of course. The book includes information on 35 plants that offer the best of landscape and culinary uses. I’m envious of her color photos (and great title)! It covers fruit trees, such as crabapple and quince; nut trees, including chestnut and almond; and covering herbs and vines, such as bay, grape, lavender, mint and thyme. And don’t forget the edible wildflowers. Nan also gives tips on canning, pickling, dehydrating, freezing, juicing, and fermenting.

I have a soft spot for Nan. When I was researching my book and she lived in Boone (she’s in Asheville now), I wrote asking if she knew anyone with an extra room I could stay with for a few days. (We’d never met or talked.) She said yes, and offered up her own house! That was incredibly hospitable, and she and her husband, Saul, even included me in their dinner plans. Thank you both again!

The book is published by Gibbs Smith and costs $20. Nan is touring the country to promote it. Her next gig is at the wonderful Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC. Check out her schedule here.

Elizabeth Wiegand grew up in a farming family in central North Carolina

The other book I want to rave about is “The New Blue Ridge Cookbook” by Elizabeth Wiegard (WEE-gard), who lives in Raleigh. This is the mountain version of her “The Outer Banks Cookbook.” The book’s tagline is “Authentic Recipes from Virginia’s Highlands to North Carolina’s Mountains.” Instead of focusing on the usual traditional Appalachian cooking, “Blue Ridge” brings to light the new food movements — Slow Food, locavores, farm-to-table restaurants, and the like. So while Beth explores culinary history she also takes a fresh look at local. Her recipes come from farmers, chefs, and home cooks. The sidebars are as interesting as the recipes, and include farmer profiles and such ditties as the history of the sweet potato and NC truffle growing. Alas, her photos are black and white, as mine will be, but they’re still quite lovely.

I first learned about Beth and her book when I was traveling in the NC mountains last summer researching my farm-travel guidebook, and the news struck fear in my heart because I kept hearing that someone else was writing the same book I was. Say it ain’t so! I finally tracked down her name and contacted her and was relieved to learn that hers was a farm-focused cookbook and mine was a farm-focused travel guide. Still, we have a bit of overlap, especially in our sidebars. I can only attribute that to the “great-minds-think-alike” syndrome. We’ve since met for lunch and enjoyed comparing notes about writing, farmers, and food.

Beth’s book is published by Globe Pequot Press and costs $19. She, too, is doing readings, and writes a fun, informative and beautifully photographed blog called Carolina Foodie. Go to “events” on this page for upcoming readings. For you local readers, she’ll be at A Southern Season on April 30, McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village on May 2, and Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on May 7. (Dang if I’m not going to be out of town for every one of those.)

I hope you’ll support these wonderful writing women and their equally wonderful books. Both would make perfect Mother’s Day (May 9) gifts, come to think of it.

His wonderful whirligig world

April 22, 2010

Vollis Simpson in his backyard whirligig park in Lucama, N.C., in 2005

Update: Rest in peace, Vollis Simpson, who died at home in Lucama, N.C., on May 31, 2013, at the age of 94.

The recent article in the New York Times about our North Carolina treasure Vollis Simpson reminded me of our trip the the whirligig master’s home a few years ago. Hard to believe that Vollis is now 91 and still whirligigging! Here’s what I wrote on Nov. 12, 2005, for my (still ongoing) Who & Ware column in the News & Observer:

The state fair left Raleigh a couple weeks ago, but there’s a midway of sorts you can see year-round over in Wilson County.

The display, plucked down amid pine trees and tobacco and cotton fields, is a startling sight if you’re unprepared.  The sky suddenly fills with a carnival of contraptions, some of which resemble Ferris wheels, carousels, and kids rides. Colorful parts move excitably in the breeze while the sounds from dozens of spinning wheels clatter and click out a wind-powered melody.

Vollis cuts a propeller out metal

The mastermind of this handmade midway is Vollis Simpson, 86, a lifelong resident of Lucama, a tiny town in western Wilson County about 50 miles east of Raleigh. For more than a decade now, the curious and the collectors have come from near and far to come visit Simpson’s “whirligig farm.”

Simpson, known nationally, has large-scale pieces in Raleigh, Greensboro, Atlanta, Baltimore, and downtown Wilson.  He’s been written about in national magazines and had a documentary made about him. Last year USA Today listed his farm among the “10 Great Places to Sample Quirky Americana.”

Simpson, a lifetime tinkerer, machine shop owner by trade, and artist in “retirement” seems to take his fame in stride. You can ask him yourself if you stop by his workshop near the intersection of Wiggins Mill Road and Willing Worker Road.  You’ll have to maneuver through a few piles of metal, fans, fan blades, bicycle wheels, buckets, radiator covers, and more to reach his work space.

A tabletop whirligig

While Simpson might be one of North Carolina’s most famous “outsider,” or untrained, artists, he’s no recluse. He’s also not full of himself.  When responding to “Hi, you must be Vollis Simpson,” he answered, “Yep, what’s left of me.”

We visited on a Sunday afternoon, and, as usual, Simpson was working. He wiped the smudge off his large, lined hands with a rag and held one out for a shake. He advised his visitors to speak up, as he doesn’t hear so well these days.

Simpson, wearing his usual jeans and a plaid shirt speckled with paint, led us  into his field of dreams. His bigger works are worth $10,000 and up. (Not that they’re for sale, though he does still fill custom orders.) He also has a shed full of smaller pieces for the tabletop and yard that he sells from $100 to $200.

Vollis tests a tabletop whirligig in his workshop

For its centennial this year, Wilson commissioned a dozen large whirligigs. Five of those now dot downtown and the others are in the works. (Two are at the intersection of Tarboro and Nash streets.)

The house Simpson shares with Jean, his wife of 58 years, sits back behind the field holding the whirligigs. One son, Michael, a mail carrier, lives in a separate house on the family property, the same farm Simpson and his 11 siblings were raised on. His daughter, Carol Kyles, a social worker, lives up the street, and his other son, Leonard, a TV newscaster, lives in Greensboro.


Happy Dutch-American Friendship Day!

April 19, 2010

A salute to Dutch-American Friendship Day

Wessel loves his Dutch-themed days, so I’ve given over today’s blog posting to my favorite Dutch citizen (I think the Quincy connection is very cool!):

Today is Dutch-American Friendship Day, which commemorates that on April 19, 1782, John Adams was admitted by the States General of the Dutch Republic as Minister of the United States of America, thus obtaining the second diplomatic recognition of the United States as an independent nation (France preceded in 1777). It was also the day that the house Adams had purchased at Fluwelen Burgwal 18 in The Hague was to become the first American Embassy in the world. A treaty of commerce and friendship was signed and Adams negotiated a loan of five million guilders for war supplies. In the years after, Adams arranged three additional loans. Let’s just say that money talks.

Birthplace of U.S. President John Adams, in Quincy, Mass., is operated by the National Park Service (photo Wikipedia)

Adams had strong ties with the Netherlands. His sons, John Quincy and Charles Adams enrolled at the University of Leiden in 1781. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized that these were the Adamses, the US presidents from Quincy, Mass. Quincy is where Diane lived for years before we moved to Durham, NC. So we’re doing our part to continue a tradition of centuries of Dutch-American relationships.

Great white shark sighting on Florida beach

April 14, 2010

Film poster JAWS, 1975, Universal Studios

Wessel pleaded with me to take a brief detour on the way home from dinner the other night. We were visiting our cute little condo in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., and had just eaten at Keegan’s Seafood Grille. Wessel decided we should walk the two blocks home via the beach. “OK, if you insist,” I whined.

Little did I know what a treat we had in store. As we headed over the walkway from the county’s beach park, we stopped and gasped at the giant movie screen ON the beach! A movie was playing, popcorn was popping, and about 60 people in folding canvas chairs organized themselves in rows in front of the screens. I’ve been to movies on lawns and movies on rooftops, but never movies at the beach! Very exciting!

Saturday night movie -- at the beach!

But what really cracked me up is they were showing “Jaws 2.” Edgy! Seems to me the last film you’d want to see at the beach would be about a killer great white shark. Turns out the film was sponsored by the Indian Rocks Homeowners Association, which stages great events year-round. Hmmm, maybe they don’t want folks to move to the beach. Then again, they did offer free popcorn. Thanks, IRBers!

I never saw Jaws 2 (1978), which was not quite so well received as the original classic, which debuted in 1975. For me, the first version was quite enough. I saw it when I was living in Florida, and it scared the bejeezus out of me to the point that swimming in the ocean has never felt the same. Usually I’m rational about these things, and base my fears on probability. But in this case, Hollywood trumped.

Indian Rocks Beach the morning after .... it's eerily quiet. Duh nuh. Duh nuh...

Then I had to fill in my Dutch husband on all the pop culture surrounding “Jaws.” Such as “Saturday Night Live“’s “Candygram … Land Shark” skits, and how if you say “Duh-nuh. Duh-nuh… (Duh nun nuh nuh nuh. Duh nuh nuh nuh nuh),” it means danger is lurking nearby.

As detours go, that was quite a memorable one. Duh nuh. Duh nuh ….

Olives, Italy, bicycling … bellissimo!

April 8, 2010

Ciclismo Classico takes riders through the olive harvest process in Italy

I love olives. I love bicycling. I love Italy. I love this bicycle vacation! My cycling acquaintance Lauren Hefferon, a dynamo who runs Ciclismo Classico, has partnered with Colavita USA (“marketers of the #1 brand of Italian extra virgin olive oil“) to create a tour that coincides with Italy’s October olive harvest. Oh that sounds so awesome. The company is based in the Molise region, three hours southeast of Rome.

The sad truth is I won’t be joining them for the standard reasons: time and money. But you should consider it! Here’s info from the press release. As you can see, the tour includes other food fun, history, charming towns (unavoidable in Italy), and, oh yeah, cycling: 

The countryside around Molise

The journey starts with a  ride to the tiny village of Pastena by way of Guasto and Paduli. On day two, early risers can search for Molise’s famed truffles with a local guide before pedaling to Pietrabbondante to explore ancient theater ruins and the Marinelli family’s renowned bell foundry, which has been producing church bells for over a thousand years. 

Next, it’s pasta day! The group will ride to the Colavita pasta factory in Trivento for a tour – complete with samples of freshly made pasta. Yum. From there, it’s on to the medieval city of Campobasso

Olive trees as far as the eye can see

Days four and five are all about olive oil – from harvest to production to tasting. Guests will experience Italy’s “green gold” as the tour makes its way through vast groves of olive trees. On day five, Enrico Colavita, the company’s president, will welcome the group to his family’s stone frantoio (olive crushing mill) where Colavita continues to produce extra virgin olive oil using traditional methods that date back thousands of years. Next, a tasting of the novello oil, freshly-pressed from the new harvest. That is too exciting! 

On the last day of cycling, it’s on to the rolling landscape known as Italy’s “bread basket.” The group will pedal along fields of wheat, sunflowers, and olive trees before arriving at Cantine Cipressi, one of Molise’s most acclaimed wineries in the town of San Felice Del Molise. Departure is from Rome, another place to visit. 

Departure dates are Oct. 8 and 18. Price? $3,700. And, no, it doesn’t include airfare, sillies. But I will tell you that Ciclismo Classico is a first-rate bike touring group. It specializes in but isn’t limited to Italy. In fact, this year the company is leading a Lofoten Island tour in Norway, which Wessel and I did on our own in 2008

Ciclismo Classic owner Lauren Hefferon

A few other words about founder/owner Lauren, who lives near Boston. Every year she and her elves put on the Jingle Ride, where cyclists donning holiday garb ride the streets of Boston. I did it when I lived there and had a blast. But my most memorable image of Lauren is when I passed her one day on the Minuteman Bikeway. I can’t remember if she was cycling or skating, but she was like nine months pregnant. Cracked me up. That’s Lauren. The woman does not stop, and she has worked so, so hard to keep her company going. 

Please, readers, take this trip, write to me about it, and send me some olive oil! 

When you bee in need of mead

April 5, 2010

Ben Alexander next to the tall columns for the fermentation process

When Wessel and I were in Maine a couple weeks ago we made a point to visit Maine Mead Works in downtown Portland. I was impressed that they really live up to their “or by appointment” declaration with visits other than regularly scheduled tours. I called ahead and owner Ben Alexander made time for us outside of their regular hours, not knowing I was doing a piece for the Boston Globe. (Yes, I told him when we arrived!) Here’s the story, which ran in the Travel section of yesterday’s Globe:

PORTLAND, Maine — Workers were busy as bees the day we visited Maine Mead Works, housed inconspicuously in an industrial section of downtown. Inside the 800-square-foot space, two young men were bottling the signature blueberry mead, a caterer had stopped by to pick up a case of the in-demand beverage for a culinary event at the Portland Art Museum that evening, and owner Ben Alexander was preparing his deliveries for the day. Those alone keep him busy — these days Maine Mead Works’ HoneyMaker mead is sold in 150 shops and restaurants throughout the state and shipped to more than a dozen other states.

Maine Mead Works can produce 500 to 750 bottles a week

If your notion of mead is a thick, syrupy liquid consumed at Renaissance fairs, Alexander, 34, would like to have a word with you.

“People expect we’ll be serving mead in a skull-like mug that you need both hands to hold,” he said. “The perception is that it’s always cloying and sticky, something you only want a few sips of. But we’re one of the few meads that is really more like wine.” That includes the alcohol content of 12.5 percent.

To help educate the masses, Maine Mead Works offers regular tastings and tours, where visitors can see every step of the mead-making process — except the bees.

Mead, “mankind’s oldest drink,” as Alexander likes to say, is a simple concoction made with 20 percent honey and 80 percent water. The honey, primarily goldenrod from northern Maine, comes from Swan’s Honey in Albion.

Meadery makes dry and semi-sweet meads

Maine Mead Works started in 2007, when Alexander, a technology entrepreneur, partnered with Eli Cayer, a hobby mead maker, beekeeper, and community organizer. (While Cayer is still a co-owner, he recently left to start his own mead-making operation.) The two men turned to pioneering mead maker Garth Cambray, a South African scientist. Cambray, an expert in advanced mead-making systems, supplied Maine Mead Works with its initial yeast and taught Cayer and Alexander his “continuous fermentation process.”

Visitors can see where the mixture of honey and water, which is called must, is pumped into the fermentation room. Within 24 hours, 85 percent of the sugars in the must are fermented into alcohol. The process takes place in eight five-foot-tall tubes; production can be expanded by adding tubes. For now, the meadery can produce 500 to 750 bottles a week.

After the must is fermented, it is then pumped into maturation barrels, where it’s aged. The must-to-bottle process typically takes six to eight weeks, Alexander said.

Ben serves mead not in globlets but in nice glass tumblers during the tasting session

We were eager to taste the stuff, which comes in three varieties — dry, semi-sweet, and blueberry. Special flavors are made throughout the year, including one that was still on hand, the “applecisor,” made with apple cider instead of water. Other seasonal flavors include cranberry and lavender.

As Alexander promised, the mead, served in nice glass tumblers, not Medieval-looking goblets, is much closer to wine than syrup. The dry is a tad sweet, but not very, and the semi-sweet is just that. The plucky blueberry has a touch of tannin from the berry skins. We preferred the dry and semi-sweet, and bought several bottles for ourselves and friends.

“These varieties will taste different in another batch because the honey changes from season to season,” Alexander said.

I guess we’ll have to come back and see for ourselves.

Maine Mead Works, 200 Anderson Street, Portland, 207-773-6323, Free tastings and tours are held 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday or by appointment (hours may vary seasonally). Bottles (750 milliliters) cost $14 to $16.