Archive for August, 2010

Eat, stay, love: Flavorful Bali

August 23, 2010

Flower offering on shopping street in Ubud

Glowing green rice patties. Petite piles of flowers gathered in front of nearly every business and home. Incense burning at every street corner. Temples large and small at every turn. And hawkers and tourists and tourists and hawkers. Bali really is all that. I haven’t seen “Eat Pray Love,” but I‘m assuming those visuals and more are in the movie.

We were there in the spring of 2005, for just a few days before flying off to the neighboring island of Lombok, which has many fewer tourists.

Woman carries baskets on her head

But unlike most of Muslim Indonesia, the majority of Bali residents are Hindu, hence the ornate Buddha statues, colorful clothing, flower and incense offerings.

I can’t recall how it came to be, but someone put me in contact with Caroline Miksch, who grew up in Lancaster County, Penn., and now designs and makes batik children’s wear in Ubud, Bali, under the name Pelangi Design. I wanted to write about her for someone — anyone. I ended up interviewing her and could not sell that dang story for the life of me. She graciously connected us with her driver, Nyoman, who we made arrangements with ahead of time. He was a doll and a great chauffeur.

We spent our first night at the hotel Kumula Pantai, in the beach resort town of Kuta, where the awful tourist bombings of 2002 took place, killing 202 people. The hotel was fairly fabulous; our room was around $40. Ridiculous. It was filled with beautiful people, mostly Aussies. The beach was not so attractive. Bland, boring, brownish.

Babi guling (spit-roasted suckling pig) at roadside restaurant Iba Oka in Ubud

Nyoman met us there the next day to drive us to Ubud, the “cultural capital.” Alas, it’s also the tourist capital, and the shopping district is lined with not only high-end galleries, but dozens of junkie souvenir shops. Nyoman took us on a fascinating drive around the island, where we passed tiny villages and witnessed rice harvesting. And we visited Caroline’s amazing home.

For three nights we stayed in the enchanting Ananda Ubud, in our own little thatched cottage, for $30 a night. We looked out over gardens and rice patties, and each day a freshly cut hibiscus blossom would be left in our room. In the morning, I’d eat dark brown rice cereal and fresh fruit.

Up the tall tree and back, coconut in hand

I recall one steaming hot walk we took through rice paddies and villages, where we saw the ubiquitous women carrying  baskets on their heads. At one point a man jumped on the path in front of us wielding a large scythe. He motioned to us to watch as he shimmied up a palm tree, grabbed a coconut and brought it to us, slicing out an opening for the milk with a flourish. Of course he does this for all the tourists, and we were delighted to pay him for our fresh snack.

In Ubud we also had some amazing meals, spicier than I’m usually comfortable with. But the flavors, oh the flavors, were so sharp and sweet and made you pay attention. My tongue screamed in pain and pleasure.

Nyoman plays host at his home

Near the end of our stay, Nyoman invited us to his home. Earlier, we’d visited his wife, whose family has a job making carved figurines to sell to tourists. We watched her as she painted long-necked cats with large eyes. We bought several. The couple and their daughter, then six, lived in a few rooms of a family compound. The floors and walls were concrete and we sat on a threadbare carpet in one of the rooms while Nyoman served us fruit on a small dish. He was so proud to have us there. We knew our vacation budget alone was probably more than he would make in several years.

And, then, we were off to Lombok. But that’s another story.

Fullsteam ahead!

August 18, 2010

The fans flocked to opening night at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC

One day I”m sure we’ll find ourselves saying, yes, we were there, we were at opening day of Fullsteam R&D, the tavern on the premises of Fullsteam Brewery, Durham’s “plow-to-pint” beer maker. Out-of-towners, put this on your must-visit list.

Its stated mission? “To craft a distinctly Southern beer style using local farmed goods, heirloom grains, and Southern botanicals. We’re making beer with sweet potatoes, corn grits, summer basil, and malted barley house-smoked over hickory. Ultimately, our vision is to craft a year-round, sustainable, scalable, and distinctly Southern beer brewed 100% with local ingredients. That’s the quest. We’re a long ways from realizing this vision, but we hope you enjoy the adventure as much as we expect to.”

A friendly bartender (but who is he?) drew one of the many brews on tap

Uh-huh. In fact, we Durhamites (and beyond) have been frothing at the mouth waiting for Fullsteam to open.

Here’s what’s available now:

El Toro cream ale

Rocket Science IPA

Carver sweet potato lager

Summer Basil farmhouse ale

Hogwash hickory-smoked porter

Fullsteam/Carolina Common (almost; still fermenting)

Poster celebrates opening night

These are on the horizon:

Working Man’s Lunch (MoonPie Stout)

Fig Dessert Bomb

6:14 American Mild

Mothervine (scuppernong sparkling ale)

Southern Culture dampfbier

Kudzu Jesus (a long-term project)

300 Mile (a long-term project)

Fig dessert bomb

While you can’t buy Fullsteam in a bottle or in a store (yet), it’s on tap at some spots in the Triangle and Asheville and you can order growlers at two farmers’ markets – Durham and Carrboro. Sign me up!

Fullsteam’s Wall of Awesome

Fullsteam’s vibe is as vibrant as its beer. Thanks to friendly founder Sean Lilly Wilson, along with beer brainiacs Chris Davis and Brooks Hamaker, Fullsteam’s “Wall of Awesome” is lined with “Certificates of Awesome” bearing names of the hundreds (thousands?) of fans who have donated at least $99 to the startup. (OK, folks, while you’re at it, go sign up for Durham Central Market, the co-op to be. We need your support!)

Sometime soonish, Fullsteam will be selling savory pies (yes!) and meanwhile you can BYOF, a very generous option, I think.

My favorite little touch at Fullsteam? The sign over the hallway to the restrooms: Fullstream.

Locks, stock, and barrels

August 11, 2010

Olivia and her mom, Alice, cross the first aqueduct on the C&O Canal bike trip

We loved the 59 locks we passed last week along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal because we got to go downhill. Woo-hoo! OK, a 0.1-percent grade isn’t much, but after more than 180 flat miles, it’s cause for celebration.

Six cycling friends, ages 10 to 52, headed up by our fearless leader Alice Charkes of Vermont, spent six days bicycling from Frostburg to Great Falls, Maryland. Al’s daughter, Olivia, rode her own bike for the first time on a bike tour (instead of on a tandem with her mom). What a trooper!

This was a “self-contained” trip, where we carried our own gear and stocked up on groceries daily. We camped for three nights and slept indoors the other three.

The Bloody Cornfield, one of the battlefield sites where Northern and Southern troops clashed on September 17, 1862.

The “barrels”? Our detour to rifle-ridden Antietam National Battlefield, site of the bloodiest Civil War battle, with about 23,000 casualties.

What we feared most beforehand barely occurred: ticks, mosquitoes, poison ivy, and mud. Heat we had, but the bike trails are mostly shaded, a blessed relief from the stinging sun.

Highlights, you ask?

Day 1: We started on the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail and then jumped onto the C&O towpath in Cumberland, which has a great C&O Visitor Center and historic downtown. The towpath goes between canal and Potomac River, so nice views all week.

Day 2: We passed no towns, but did see many turtles sunning on logs in the canal. We had to conquer major hills to reach our crummy little private campground.

Lockhouse 49, one of the three rental lockhouses along the C&O Canal

Day 3: Toured the very air-conditioned visitor center at Fort Frederick State Park and stayed in a lockhouse, a lodging treat! The C&O Canal Trust recently renovated and opened three lockhouses for overnight stays. Only one has plumbing and a/c — not ours (No. 49), so it was a bit like glorified camping, but a very neat renovated building.

Day 4: Fueled up at the friendly Desert Rose Cafe in cute little Williamsport, then spent hours at Antietam, a very interesting stop, despite my aversion to war tourism. Had a night of luxury at the Mary Hill House in sleepy Sharpsburg, so sleepy that the kind owners offered to drive us to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for a stellar dinner at Blue Moon Cafe. Healthy, tasty food, way-friendly servers, and a cool college town to boot.

Sunset over the Potomac River from the hiker/biker campsite

Day 5: All this time I’d thought Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, was another historic town when it’s actually mostly a National Historic Park that recreates its fascinating past. Don’t miss it. Our Last Supper was a rare treat — Alice’s cousin from Fairfax, Virginia, came with her family and a carload of pizza, salad, and cold beer. Amen! Our most primitive night of camping at the Canal “hiker/biker” campsite included a scenic sunset, cicada orchestra with a special dueling-owl serenade.

Cycling our final miles on the towpath before reaching Great Falls. The trail continues to DC.

Day 6: With Washington DC in range, traffic picked up greatly on our last day. Still, nature abounded, including a busy beaver, patient blue herons, and wading egrets. We had just enough time to view Great Falls before meeting our hired shuttle. Where to next? We’ll let you know. Meanwhile, more C&O pics are here.