Archive for the ‘North Carolina’ Category

The dish on visiting Replacements in NC

May 24, 2014

I’d always wanted to do a story on Replacements, but had no idea it would be sooooo much fun! Here’s my article, which originally ran in the Washington Post on April 27, 2014, and has since been reprinted in several other newspapers. Details for visiting are below the story. The kicker: I was cleaning out the basement after this ran and discovered yet another box of inherited crystal, worth enough money to warrant a return visit. This time I’m making a point of meeting owner Bob Page. Can’t wait!

By Diane Daniel

Replacements’ 12,000-square-foot retail store and museum near Greensboro, N.C., is open to the public, with free guided tours through the warehouse

Replacements’ 12,000-square-foot retail store and museum near Greensboro, N.C., is open to the public, with free guided tours through the warehouse

When Laurie Oliver, running the sellers’ counter at Replacements, Ltd., said that it might take 90 minutes to process my six plastic tubs of china, silver and crystal, my first thought was, I’m pretty sure I’ll need more time than that.

For years, I’d driven past the gigantic showroom and warehouse (“the size of eight football fields!” according to the Web site), visible along Interstate 85 just east of Greensboro, N.C., thinking that I wanted to drop in. Not because I like to shop (I don’t), but because the scale and mission of the place fascinate me. The aptly named company maintains the world’s largest inventory of old and new china, crystal, silver and collectibles – some 12 million pieces representing more than 400,000 patterns. Broke your Margarete Bridal Rose salad plate? Look no further. Want some cash for your Spiegelau Aida water goblet? Step right up.

The bulk of the company’s dealings, both buying and selling, occur online, on the phone, and through parcel delivery. But for more than 55,000 annual visitors, Replacements transforms into much more than a center of commerce. I experienced it as a dog park, a gay rights center, an inventory-handling machine, a tableware museum and a place of worship – or at least profound appreciation – for benevolent leader Bob Page.

The rainbow flag flies under the Replacements logo. Owner and founder Bob Page is known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide.

The rainbow flag flies under the Replacements logo. Owner and founder Bob Page is known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide.

I started my unofficial tour in the back parking lot (non-selling visitors typically use the front door). I’d dutifully made the recommended sellers’ appointment and had identified my inherited china patterns. But I’d also brought a hodgepodge of indeterminate crystal and items that I hoped were actually silver. (Prices are based on supply and demand.)

The first thing I noticed was the tall pole holding two flapping flags – one stamped with the Replacements logo and the other covered in rainbow stripes, the universal gay symbol. Owner Page, once closeted, is now known as a gay rights leader locally and statewide, a bold proclamation for a mainstream business owner in these parts.

As I was unloading my boxes onto a cart, two employees passed by, one walking a black Lab and the other a Pomeranian, lending truth to the sign on the door that reads, “Well-behaved pets welcome.” Staffers told me that though dogs rule, visitors have also brought cats on leashes and even a pot-bellied pig.

After Oliver explained the drill, she cut me loose to play. I followed the yellow tape on the floor down a long corridor in a warehouse toward the retail showroom, passing row after row of floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with china, crystal and some collectibles. (Hummels, anyone?)

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Paperhand puts ‘Invisible Earth’ on the map

August 14, 2013

Darwin narrates evolution

Darwin narrates evolution

The current production of the amazing Paperhand Puppet Intervention is one of our favorites among the nine and counting we’ve seen. “Invisible Earth” features a Charles Darwin character fast-forwarding through evolution with a message of peace, love, and stewardship — the usual lofty Paperhand themes. As always, Paperhand’s visuals amaze both children and adults. This year’s include dancing amoebas, barnyard animals, funky monkeys, a huge elegiac mask with outstretched arms, and a humanoid assembled with Japanese lanterns. Several times throughout the 90-minute show, cast members glided the stage waving huge strips of fluttering fabric hanging from bamboo poles, sometimes sending the caressing cloth out over the audience. Truly poetry in motion. Another highlight this year: gorgeous, searing music composed by Ari Picker (Lost in the Trees) and, as always, performed live by the Paperhand Band. Below are a few of our favorite images. But please, go see for yourself! Paperhand will be at its annual summer home, the historic outdoor Forest Theatre on the UNC Chapel Hill campus, through Sept. 8, and then at the NC Museum of Art amphitheater Sept. 13-15.

Stiltwalkers portray jelly fish

This year’s creations include jellyfish on stilts

Pigs walk through the audience to join the animal orchestra

Pigs walk through the audience to join the animal orchestra

The animal orchestra in action

The animal orchestra in action

Scene of the Visions of Earth

Giant masks are a Paperhand signature

The Great Unfolding

Outstretched arms signal a lantern surprise (top secret!)

Bicycle rides around the country, and the world

June 18, 2013

Here in North Carolina, our summer days are often too dang hot for bike riding, unless you get up at the crack o’ dawn (which we occasionally do). But in many parts of the country and certainly in northern Europe, where one of us hails from, this is the ultimate cycling season. To that end, some trips to inspire you.

201306_01_placestobikeFirst, check out the book “Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die,” by Chris Santella (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95). Santella is more editor than author — he enlists advice from a hosts of cyclists, from advocates to tour guides to writers. It’s a great read, and for cyclists like us, it’s like reading a dessert menu that spans the globe.

For those of us sticking closer to home, I wrote a list of cross-state bike rides for the Boston Globe that I’m reprinting here. As avid cyclists know, nearly every state these days offers some kind of multiple-day ride. Many are staged by volunteers or advocacy groups and are quite affordable, though, yeah, you’re not staying at the Four Seasons. For you luxury-minded riders, I suggest a trip with a commercial tour company, of which there are zillions. For the rest of us, check these out or Google your way to rides in your favorite states.

Participants of the Ride the Rockies

Participants of the Ride the Rockies

RIDE THE ROCKIES

One of the most rugged cross-state tours, this year’s sold-out Colorado version (right), from Telluride to Colorado Springs, features three scenic mountain passes and 20,400 feet of climbing over 513 miles. June 8-15, http://www.ridetherockies.com (Some friends are about to embark on an awesome Colorado tour. I had to pass because of my work schedule. So sad.)

BIKEMAINE

Inaugural weeklong event kicks off Sept. 7 with a challenging 400-mile loop starting in Orono and including stops in Belfast, Castine, Bar Harbor, and Bangor, with a cumulative elevation gain of 24,000 feet. Routes will change yearly. http://ride.bikemaine.org/

201306_03_RAGBRAI

RAGBRAI

The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, an annual seven-day, 470-mile ride in July, is the oldest (since 1972), largest, and longest bicycle touring event in the world. Day passes available. July 21-27, http://www.ragbrai.com (I did this in 2005.  What a blast!!!!!!!! Make sure you train for it!)

RIDE ACROSS WASHINGTON

This year’s tour, themed “Pines to Vines,” takes 250 riders from near the Canadian border north of Spokane south to the Hood River with about 21,000 feet of climbing and spectacular scenery. Aug. 3-10, http://www.cascade.org

Logo of the 2013 Bike Florida tour

Logo of the 2013 Bike Florida tour

BIKE FLORIDA

The 20th anniversary ride, in early spring 2014, will showcase northeast Florida’s back roads, trails, and beaches. Dates and stops to be determined. http://www.bikeflorida.org

Southport: A ‘Safe Haven’ for ‘Under the Dome’

May 12, 2013

One of the loveliest waterfront towns on the entire East Coast is Southport, North  Carolina. It’s also a popular place for shooting films. One, “Safe Haven,” just came out on DVD. Another, the TV series “Under the Dome,” debuts this summer. Here’s a story I wrote about Southport, which ran May 12 in “The Boston Globe.” 

By Diane Daniel

The Southport Yacht Basin, where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is home to several seafood restaurants

The Southport Yacht Basin is home to several seafood restaurants

With maps in hand, Nina Walsh and Mary Koehler gazed up at Moore Street Market, a popular cafe housed in a historic wood-frame building in picture-perfect Southport, N.C., on the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

“When we saw the movie, there it was, and I thought, hey, I ate lunch at that store!” Koehler said. The friends, both living in nearby Leland, with Walsh a recent transplant from Swampscott, Mass., had made a return trip to Southport after seeing the romantic thriller “Safe Haven,” based on the book of the same name by syrupy scribe Nicholas Sparks.

“They told us about this tour in the Visitor’s Center,” said Walsh, waving a “Safe Haven Filming Locations” pamphlet. “Everyone walking in the door was asking about the movie.”

The river pilots' tower has been redone to look like Station WYBS for the filming of "Under the Dome"

The river pilots’ tower is “Station WYBS” for the filming of “Under the Dome”

Because nearby Wilmington houses the largest film production facility east of Los Angeles, Hollywood is old hat in these parts. Southport’s credits include the 1986 film “Crimes of the Heart,” the TV series “Matlock,” and the just-out HBO movie “Mary and Martha.” The highest-profile show to be filmed here is still in production — the Stephen King science-fiction series “Under the Dome,” set to premiere on CBS June 24.

Waterfront Park, overlooking the Cape Fear River, is a popular spot for relaxing

Waterfront Park, overlooking the Cape Fear River, is a popular spot for relaxing

But “Safe Haven,” released May 7 on DVD, stands out as the one anointed for red-carpet treatment because the town itself plays a leading role. If you’ve seen the sentimental film, in which “Katie” (Julianne Hough) winds up on the Carolina coast after fleeing a dangerous Boston cop and then falls for local shop owner “Alex” (Josh Duhamel), you’ll likely agree that Southport steals the show. With a few exceptions, everything depicted in “Safe Haven” exists — a picturesque harbor, small retail shops dotting a lively downtown, streets lined with Victorian homes, stately oaks draped with Spanish moss, and bustling waterfront seafood restaurants. And, yes, the town of 2,900 residents really does host an exuberant July 4th parade — officially the North Carolina Fourth of July Festival — which attracts upwards of 50,000 visitors. Last year’s parade was even reenacted a month later for the filming, using townspeople as extras.

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Towering trees keep us grounded

April 22, 2013

In honor of Arbor Day, we salute a handful of our country’s notable trees.

Dogwood at Matthis Family Cemetery in Clinton, NC

Dogwood at Matthis Family Cemetery in Clinton, NC

MATTHIS FAMILY TREE, NORTH CAROLINA

One of the largest dogwoods in the country, measuring 31 feet tall with an average branch spread of 48 feet and a trunk circumference of 114 inches, this tree heralds spring from Matthis Family Cemetery in Clinton. I wrote a full story about it a couple years ago. Love that tree!

American elm at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum

American elm at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum

SURVIVOR TREE, OKLAHOMA

Despite being heavily damaged, this American elm, more than a century old, survived the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, and is now part of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. Its saplings are distributed on the bombing’s anniversary. http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org

WEEPING BEECH, MASSACHUSETTS

The Captain Bangs Hallet House in Yarmouthport is famous for the photogenic beech in its back yard, which is more than 60 feet tall and estimated to be between 150 and 200 years old. http://www.hsoy.org

Morton Oak in Nebraska City, Nebraska

Morton Oak in Nebraska City, Nebraska

MORTON OAK, NEBRASKA

This survivor of an old oak savanna remains a beloved spot at Arbor Day Farm, a 260-acre historic landmark and visitor attraction on the original property of J. Sterling Morton, a journalist who encouraged tree planting and who started Arbor Day in Nebraska City in 1872. http://www.arbordayfarm.org

GENERAL SHERMAN, CALIFORNIA

This giant sequoia at Sequoia National Park commands the world’s attention. By volume it’s the largest known tree in existence and is thought to be about 2,300 years old. http://www.nps.gov/seki

April in North Carolina is all about beer

April 11, 2013

201304_02s_NCBeerMonthCraft beer followers already pour into North Carolina because of its reputation as the South’s premiere beer destination, with more breweries than any state south of Pennsylvania (73 and counting). In April there’s another reason to imbibe — a month of foam-focused activities, including tastings, hotel packages, and special events as part of the state’s inaugural North Carolina Beer Month. “We hope to open even more eyes and palates to the popularity of craft beer,” said Win Bassett, director of the North Carolina Brewers Guild.

NC Beer Lover's Weekend at O. Henry Hotel in Greensboro

NC Beer Lover’s Weekend at O. Henry Hotel in Greensboro

Participating breweries range from “nano-brewery” Bear Creek Brews, west of Raleigh, to Oskar Blues, the state’s largest craft brewery, near the Pisgah Forest (its parent brewery is in Longmont, Colo.). Offerings include a float trip down the French Broad River in Asheville followed by a tour and tasting at Altamont Brewing (April 20 and 27, $50); the Hickory Hops festival hosted by Olde Hickory Brewing with 40-plus breweries, music, and the Carolinas Championship of Beers.(April 20, $10-$30); and NC Beer Lover’s Weekend at O. Henry Hotel in Greensboro, with dinner and cooking class featuring beers by Highland Brewing Co. (April 26-27, $319 to $678). http://www.ncbeermonth.com

Restaurants not to be missed in the NC mountains

October 9, 2012

If you love going to the North Carolina mountains and good eatin’ (and who doesn’t?), you need this book: “Chefs of the Mountains: Restaurants & Recipes from Western North Carolina” (John F. Blair, $19.95), by food critic John E. Batchelor. John doesn’t know it, but he helped me with researching my guidebook, “Farm Fresh North Carolina,” because I learned about tons of restaurants in the Triad region from his stories in the Greensboro and Winston-Salem papers. Thank you, John!

The book came at the right time for me, as I’ll be in Boone in a month and haven’t been there for several years. I think I’ve picked out the place, thanks to John: Vidalia. We’ll see. If you happen to be in the state already, John will be promoting the book – with chefs in tow – at several bookstores around the state. Check out the schedule here and keep in mind you’ll probably be treated to some nibbles, too, but no guarantee.

Author John E. Batchelor

 “Chefs of the Mountains” is part of a series started by my friend Ann Prospero, who wrote “Chefs of the Triangle.” Like Ann did, John gives us tasty morsels about each chef’s personal and professional life, followed by several recipes. There is a big difference: color photographs grace this book. Lucky John! The only thing missing is a price key. Maybe next edition?

John says all 40 chefs use fresh, local ingredients, and in sidebars in highlights some of the farmers and artisanal producers, such as Imladris Farm in Fairview and Sunburst Trout Farms in Canton. You can learn more about visiting those farms in my guidebook. Geez, we’re so complimentary and complementary!

My one word of warning: don’t traverse the twisting, turning NC mountain roads on too full of a stomach!

 

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.

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!