Archive for September, 2012

Vollmer Farm returns with fall festivities

September 30, 2012

Happy fall, y’all! … One of my favorite photos taken for my “Farm Fresh North Carolina” guidebook is this one, of a boy we spotted at Vollmer Farm in Bunn, NC, carrying a load of pumpkins. It might look staged, but it’s not. And the big news this week is that Vollmer’s “Back Forty” just opened for its fall festivities, which it has expanded to include a puppet play tent. You might want to go later on a Saturday afternoon for the 5 p.m. bonfire and marshmallow roast, followed by a family movie at dusk. Not only does the former tobacco farm, 45 minutes northeast of Raleigh, have loads of activities for families, it has become an fully organic farm and has the largest you-pick organic strawberry field in the state. I’m a big fan! I also want to mention that the farm lost its matriarch this past summer. Betty Vollmer was an integral part of the farm, and her generous spirit still prevails.

Here’s my entry from the book: Few in the state (LET ME ADD HERE: PERHAPS THE COUNTRY!) do agritourism at the level Vollmer Farm does. What’s most admirable is that the Vollmers operate a working farm, having made the switch from tobacco to produce, while also attracting thousands of visitors a year to their “Back Forty” entertainment complex. In the spring and summer, certified organic strawberries and blueberries are ripe for the picking, while some farm produce, snacks, and ice cream are for sale in the large gift shop. Starting in mid-September, the action really picks up. Tractor rides take hundreds of visitors and school groups a day to the “back forty” acres, filled with games, playgrounds, mazes, and other agriculturally themed attractions. Address: 677 Highway 98 East, Bunn (Franklin County), 919-496-3076, www.vollmerfarm.com. Open April to October.

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Bald Head Island, NC, revisited

September 27, 2012

We returned to lovely and car-free Bald Head Island, NC, last weekend, partly to check out the new Barrier Island Study Center and also for my final stop (at the Bald Head Island Club) as a judge in the NC Best Dish contest (more on that in another post).

Afterglow of sunset over Southport, NC

The 20-minute ferry ride from Southport started things off on a high note – we had a glowing pink and orange sunset and even saw a pair of cavorting dolphins. We stayed at a lovely house near the ocean, which was quite the treat. We could hear the waves as long as the neighbors’ air conditioning units weren’t humming. (We thought AC was totally unnecessary!) BHI is a somewhat odd mix — an upscale “gated community” feel with a true conservation mission, and a blend of high-income homeowners and the hoi polloi, like us.

Front view of Barrier Island Study Center

The Barrier Island center is a new addition to the Bald Head Island Conservancy, whose mission is to “foster barrier island conservation, education, and preservation to live in harmony with nature.” The Conservancy has long been associated with its protection of sea turtles, which nest in the dunes. (This year’s tally: 70 nests and 63 hatchings — so far!)

I should add here a bit about Bald Head Island, which along with Middle and Bluff islands, makes up the Smith Island complex, which includes 10 miles of beach and dunes, 10,000 acres of salt marsh, and 4,000 acres of barrier island upland and maritime forests. And let me also define barrier island: A relatively narrow strip of sand parallel to the mainland coast that creates a barrier system. I’ll let you in on a secret: the “island“ is really Bald Head Island Peninsula, since Hurricane Floyd (1999) filled an inlet with sand, but let’s not tell anyone.

Tom Hancock, director of conservation at the Bald Head Island Conservancy

The Conservancy runs many nature and education programs, but has long been known as a  “turtles and t-shirts,” spot, said Tom Hancock, director of conservation, during a tour he gave us. Now, because of the study center, it is poised to become a nexus of barrier-island research in a major way, including offering university students semesters “abroad.” Findings here will benefit all barrier- island communities. The energy-efficient building is gorgeous, especially because of the light filtered throughout both floors and the stairs, floors, and doorways made of reclaimed pine salvaged from the Cape Fear River. The study center’s lobby is now the main visitor information stop for the Conservancy, so do check out the building and the Conservancy’s activities. Amazingly, the center was funded solely from grants and private donations, many from residents.

Diane kayaks under blue skies along a tributary of Bald Head Creek

Afterward, we rode on the beach cruisers that came with our condo (thank you!) to Riverside Adventure Co., where we hopped into kayaks and tooled along Bald Head Creek, taking narrower and narrower tributaries, flanked by reeds. Beautiful and peaceful! From a distance, we heard the wedding march from Village Chapel next to Old Baldy, the state’s oldest-standing lighthouse (from 1817), which gleamed in the late afternoon sun. What a day!

Lina enjoys a tailwind on the ride back from Bald Head Island State Natural Area

On Sunday, following a tip from Dr. Tom, we directed the cruisers into a wicked headwind along the packed-down beach toward Fort Fisher State Recreation Area until, at Lina’s urging, we reached Bald Head Island State Natural Area, an area so remote you feel shipwrecked — that is until you see the official marker. An awesome tailwind took us back to civilization quickly, a good thing because the tide was coming in.

We capped the outing by cycling along one of our favorite spots — Cape Creek Road, a dirt road along Middle Island that feels like a step back in time and conjures images of early settlers who once called this land home. I wonder what it will all look like 100 years from now!

Dining guide points the way in North Carolina

September 17, 2012

My pal and busy “Durham Foodie” blogger Johanna Kramer just birthed her first book, and it’s a great one for food-minded locals and visitors to the  Triangle region of North Carolina. (And, really, who isn’t food minded?)

Food Lovers’ Guide to Raleigh, Durham & Chapel Hill: The Best Restaurants, Markets & Local Culinary Offerings” (Globe Pequot Press, $14.95) is chock full of information on restaurants, markets, culinary events, cooking classes, wine and beer spots and more.  You’ll find the books at the usual places, in stores and online.

Johanna Kramer signs her new book at the launch party in Durham, NC

Skimming through the 254 pages of listings, I’m transported to some of my favorite spots (Pie Pushers food truck, Guglhupf bakery and restaurant, especially the outdoor patio) and reminded of all the places I still need to visit (I’m too embarrassed to confess which ones I’ve yet to check out). Even Johanna’s book launch party on Sunday introduced me to a new spot — G2B Gastro Pub, a sleek but friendly bar/restaurant tucked away in the back of a small office complex in Durham.

In the back of the book you’ll find 18 recipes to whet your appetite, including Macaroni au Gratin from chef Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Downtown Diner in Raleigh; Market’s Ketchup, by Chad McIntyre of Market, also in Raleigh; and Raw Vegan “Pad Thai” from Triangle Raw Foods.

As I told Johanna, I’m even impressed by the index and appendices, making it easy to find what you’re looking for.  So come for a visit and see for yourself!

My iPhone took a trip without me

September 8, 2012

UPDATE: Never got news of phone, so replaced it with another 4s, though so tempted to get a 5! Every bit of my data was saved! Woo-hoo!

Well, my iPhone 4s went on a little adventure without me. I’d love to know the places it went and the people it saw. Siri, fill me in!

Frank and Sabrina, in a rare moment of calm here, agreed to accept partial blame in exchange for a treat

I traveled from Tampa, FL, to my home in Durham, NC, in a day, which is about 11 hours of driving, including the slowdowns during the notorious speed-trap zone along US 301 in Florida. I was operating on three hours sleep because my dang dogs were restless all night. In fact, I’m blaming the entire fiasco on them, because they distracted and exhausted me all day and because they’re dogs, so they can’t read this and disagree.

I stopped for gas near Florence, SC, and did the usual routine. Gas for the Honda, bathroom for me, bathroom and a walk for Frank and Sabrina, another bathroom stop for me, and then I decided to crack open a Dr Pepper to perk me up. Somewhere along the line I’d put my phone on the hood of the car. Uh-huh, you know where this is going.

Diane shows off her durable but not at all snazzy waterproof iPhone case

Accelerating back onto I-95, I heard a crack on my back windshield and saw an oddly shaped thing bouncing on the pavement. “Weird, I thought. That came out of nowhere.” A few miles later, I glanced to where I keep my phone. Empty. Not good. I fished around, realized I needed to go back, then remembered that unidentified flying object: my phone, of course. The good things were: I knew roughly where it fell and my phone is protected by a heavy-duty waterproof and shock-resistant case.

I had to go 12 miles back to the exit. Just as I was exiting off the highway I saw that a man had pulled over right where I think my phone bounced. It appeared he had just picked something up in the street and was getting back into his pickup truck. I pulled over. I honked. I screamed. But there was no chance he could hear me over six lanes of rushing traffic and a highway median. Do I know he got my phone? Nope. Coulda been a coincidence. I went to the scene of the crime and saw nothing. Maybe it bounced into tall grass? Maybe the guy had it? I have my contact info on the back of my phone, but no one has called. I took another exit and a nice hotel clerk let me use the phone. I called my lovely Lina, who went through the iCloud system and blocked data access. Later I called AT&T and deactivated my number. I did try the phone location service, but it said the phone was “off line” even though it rang.

Things I did right: Block access as soon as possible. Subscribed to iCloud from the beginning. My contacts are all updated online and I can load them onto a new phone. Most of my photos had been downloaded by Lina. Still I lost some. Put ID on my phone, not that it helped this time.

Things I did wrong: That’s easy — leaving my phone on the car roof! And maybe that I didn’t get insurance, but iPhone prices are falling very soon with a new model coming out, so that’s a silver lining!