Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Just Call Me Florence Nightengoat

Ok. So that was a lame ass pun. But - I got the official word today that Elvis and Ann-Margaret have a clean bill of health. No worms. No parasites. No viruses.

Figuring out how to trick Elvis into taking his de-wormer (easy - put it on Goat Chow) and holding down Ann-Margaret for a twice daily dose of antibiotics for 7 days seems to have paid off because their exams revealed healthy, happy goats.

While I never planned on giving up, I had doubts at times that we would get over these health hurdles and onto the business of raising goats. But we did. And I am thrilled.

So thrilled in fact, I am considering yielding to Marty's request to get some chickens.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Another Great Country Day

Apologies dear readers for waiting so long between posts. The week seemed to evaporate rapidly, leaving me little time time for sharing my thoughts with you. But it is Sunday - and despite having much on my plate to accomplish - catching up with you is top priority.

I'll rewind to Friday night, when I got home and hung out with Elvis and Ann-Margaret on poo patrol. It's been a month since their last exam and we have completed 2 rounds of de-wormer (and in Ann-Margaret's case, a 7-day dose of antibiotics), so I figured it's time for them to be re-checked.

My goats were in fine form and it took a record 35 minutes for them both to take care of business. Of course, while hanging out, I noticed that Ann-Margaret had a bit of a cough. Actually, it was more than a bit. She sounded like Sebastian when he coughs up a hairball. Of course, she wasn't coughing up anything so I naturally worried.

When you google "pygmy goats" and "cough" the first hit you get suggests that a rough cough could be a sign of lung worms - a potentially fatal parasite for goats. It doesn't say that a cough could be symptomatic of many things (similar to humans where coughing can mean anything from "I've got a tickle in my throat" to "I am dying of tuberculosis."). With only a 50% track record for goats and a history of worms, I panicked.

So Saturday morning, instead of running the samples out to Cornelius, I decided I'd bring Ann-Margaret too. The anxiety I had a month ago about loading her into the carrier and driving her all the way out to the doctor was gone and I very efficiently put the carrier in the bed of the pick-up, scooped up my little goat and plunked her inside. What I didn't count on was that she would howl. Literally. She was bleating so loudly that Marty came outside to see what was going on.

The problem is that Ann-Margaret only has Elvis in her life, so when she gets separated from him, she freaks out. So I gave in to goat psychology and waited for the doctor to make the trip to see us.

As it turns out, a physical exam showed Ann-Margaret to be quite healthy (I got a big I told you so from Marty on that one). I held her while Dr. Severt listened to her heart, felt her stomachs and took her temperature. He said short of being stunted in growth and chubby, she's fine. Of course, we'll see what the fecal exam reveals but maybe we are finally getting turned around on this goat situation.

For lunch, Marty & I drove to the Chuckwagon. How do I describe the Chuckwagon? It's basically a drive-in - Similar to Sonic - except that it's been there for 100 years and the waitresses don't wear roller skates (wait - do they wear roller skates at Sonic? Shit - I can't remember). It's a little shack and two rows for cars to park. The menu is standard NC fare - burgers, footlongs, and fried everything and probably hasn't changed ever. Marty had a Chuckwagon sandwich (chicken fried steak on a roll with lettuce, tomato and mayo) and I had a Superburger (cheeseburger with mustard, onions, chili & slaw - also known as Carolina style). The chocolate shakes were good (but not as good as Circus Hall of Cream).

Goats. Chuckwagon. It was a good country day. And as we walked to Harris Teeter to pick up groceries for dinner, all I could think was that I love my life down here.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

18-Wheelers and White Lightning

I've had 2 recent true country girl experiences that I feel compelled to share.

The first was driving an 18-wheeler. Some of you may remember my flirtation with trucking last summer. If you got into a car with me on a highway and we passed a truck (a very likely scenario), I could wax prophetic about everything from the high price of diesel to the driver shortage to the '07 compliant engines to the impact of on-board recorders to the ultimate truck stop. Well, last weekend, I finally fulfilled a long time fantasy and got behind the wheel of my very own Freightliner (courtesy of our neighbor Carl who drives one for a living).

And I confess, even though it was automatic it was hard to drive. Though you only really have 1 peddle (and maybe a knob or 2), the truck runs smoothly the more smoothly you apply pressure to the gas peddle. I was hesitant, and the truck jumped around the parking lot in fits and starts. It nearly made me ill.

Still, Carl was a bud for letting me give it a whirl and he's already asked me if I'd like to try again. We'll just call him Carl The Iron Stomach from here on out for his tolerance for my driving.

As for the white lightning, I can't say where I got it or who it came from. All I can say is that it was sweet like strawberries (the strawberries floating in the mason jar were nearly white in color, as if the sheer alcohol content had stripped them of their natural color) and it tasted so good it made my tongue roll out of my mouth and slap my brain.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

If That Ain't College...

Every once and a while, a country girl needs to break out of her country girl surroundings and plant herself in a new environment to gain a different perspective. So this weekend, I went back to college.

Well, actually, I only went back to Chapel Hill. But seeing as Chapel Hill is one of the quintessential college towns, it's close enough.

I have not been to Chapel Hill in just about 10 years. I believe the last time I was there was for dinner with my family after I graduated college in May 1997. And while some things change, much has not.

I did not give much thought as to what it would feel like to hang out in a college town as a 31 year old married woman because it never occured to me that it should feel different. But alas, it does.

Although a traffic jam on 85 delayed my arrival by about an hour, I eventually pulled into town, did a quick change, and Maggie and I drove to a wonderful dinner at Bin 54. I will tell you all, if you are ever in Chapel Hill - make it a point to stop here for dinner. It's delicious.

We started with foie gras with fig butter (sensational) and a cheese plate including a wonderfully creame St. Andre triple creme, an aged gouda (my absolute favorite) and a Point Reyes blue cheese that was not too tangy and not too sharp. This was followed by an excellent grilled bone in rib-eye, sinfully rich whipped yukon golds (ignore the fact that this might be the most overplayed side dish at fine dining establishments across the country right now) and a clever spin on creamed spinach: sauteed spinach topped with Ricotta Salata. The cheese gets warms and melts over the hot spinach, giving it a creamy texture and a nice flavor - but you don't feel like you are eating cream soaked greens. It's very delicate and very delicious. This was all washed down with a reasonably priced 1999 reserve Robert Sinsky Cabernet Sauvignon.

Despite the 3 long tables of 20 people in the middle of the room (a law firm appeared to be having some sort of end of the summer dinner for their summer associates), the atmosphere was quite lovely. The combination of the Craft style menu, the attentive service and thepleasant atmosphere made for an all together excellent dinner with no shades of college town anywhere near.

After dinner, a taxi dropped us off at West End Wine Bar on Franklin Street. Ah Franklin Street. Home to many a memory from my college days. Bar hopping. Shopping. The delicious artichoke spread at 411 West. I hoped that a night on Franklin Street would be where I got in touch with my inner sorority girl. Where I'd feel that rush of being young and carefree. Where for just a few hours, I could remember what it felt like 10 years ago when my life was truly just beginning and the sense of possibility was overwhelming.

But a civilized steakhouse and an upscale wine bar are not the places one goes to for those experiences. So I asked Maggie to take me some place where I would get carded.

That led us to The Top of the Hill, a second-story bar right in the middle of town. And sure enough, I was carded. Whether it's because I looked young enough to be under 21 (doubtful) or because it was the law (more likely), I grinned like a kid at Christmas and thanked the bouncer for flattering me so.

Of course, the warm fuzzy feeling didn't last long as we climbed the stairs and entered what appeared to be a keg party. Although a large bar in the center of the room served top shelf cocktails and bottled beer (by far superior to the standard kegs of Busch and Natty Light that I remember from college), everything else was as I remember those parties to be. Lots of young people drinking, smoking and flirting. Harmless. Fun. When you are 21. Not 31.

Surveying the crowded room (it was the first weekend back after a long summer), it was clear the students had a uniform. The boys wore tailored khaki shorts, khaki pants or blue jeans, brightly colored Polo shorts (lots of pink) or oxfords and sneakers or flip flops. The girls wore mini skirts (mainly denim), tube tops or tank tops and Rainbows, an uninspired choice in footwear that Maggie had warned me was extremely prevalant.

Maggie and I were certainly overdressed and out of place with our cute little dresses and heels. We looked older. We felt older. We escaped immediately.

Martini Bar across the street proved to be no better. A live band played 80's covers while a thong of people danced, drank and shouted to be heard over the din. The highlight of our brief time at Martini Bar came when a beared 2nd year med student approached us at the bar and asked us our favorite word or line I gave him apoplectic which he sadly didn't know the definition of). He then concocted an on-the-spot poem (after I told him what it meant) which was meant to impress (it didn't). He moved on after spotting my wedding ring and learning Maggie was his superior at the hospital.

Our last stop was Lucy's, which Maggie told me was all graudate students. I am not sure I saw much of a difference between these folks and the undergrads. The MBAs and lawyers in-training were as trashed as the undergrads, as loud, as boisterous and many seemed to be in search of someone to bring home at the end of the night. Maybe it's not about age. Maybe it's about being in school. And while we only stayed at Lucy's for one quick beer, my favorite part was when I complemented one guy on his orange shirt and he corrected me by telling me it was salmon.

After Lucy's, we walked to the corner and waited for our cab. While I'd had a fun night bar-hopping with a longtime friend, I hadn't felt 21 again. In fact, if anything, being surrounded by all those college kids made me truly feel like a 31 year old director of marketing for a hedge fund. Which is a good thing. Because that's who I am.

Our cab pulled up and as we got in, a group of 6 students ran across the street and asked if they could hitch a ride since their cab hadn't showed. We said sure - as long as we got dropped off first. As it turned out, that wasn't an issue as they were first year law students at Duke who had come to Chapel Hill for the night to party.

All piled into the minivan and heading home, the lone female in the group as asked Maggie and me where we went to school. We both smiled, had a quiet laugh and politely told her we weren't in school. We had graduated long ago.

And if that ain't college, I'll kiss your...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lincolnton’s Newest Claim to Fame

Our friend Richie recently told Marty that Lincolnton has the distinction of becoming home to the largest Bojangles in the world! For those of you unfamiliar with Bojangles, it is a chicken and biscuit fast food restaurant – the South’s answer to KFC.

Up until now, I am pretty sure that Lincolnton’s biggest claim to fame was being home to the historic site of the Battle of Ramsours Mill – an important battle during the Revolutionary War during which the Whigs (the Patriots) defeated the Tories (the Brits) and which many say was a turning point in the war.

So now I guess in addition to being home to an important event of great historical significance, we will also be home to a 2-story Bojangles serving up chicken and biscuits to the masses.

And if that ain’t country, I’ll kiss your…

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Trip to the Bullet

Saturday night brought the long awaited trip to the Silver Bullet. Having seen the outside on a brightly lit Sunday afternoon, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure I knew it was a country & western bar. Sure I knew they were only open on weekends. But would it be as sketchy as everyone made it out to be?

The parking lot was full of trucks. At least one of which was jacked up 2 feet higher than everyone else. The shack still looked decrepit – even with the bullet lit up in neon and a string of Christmas lights hanging along the roof.

Stepping into the shack was like being on the page of a book with an ocean setting behind you and crossing over to the next page and finding yourself in the middle of a forest. Except we stepped from desolate, highwayside shack to 1970s hunting lodge. The floor was covered in an unfortunate brown paisley/floral carpeting that puts the most outdated and ugly of hotel carpets to shame. Stuffed animal heads adorned the wall and one corner was guarded by a taxidermied black bear.

A man and 2 women worked the cash register. The sign above their heads advertised the price of admission: $5 for members, $7 for non-members.

After paying the elevated non-member admission, we walked down a flight of steps (still covered in the same unfortunate carpet) and entered the Bullet.

The first room we came upon looked like any old ordinary bar, save for the 400+ pound man in the bright orange Harley t-shirt and missing most of his teeth who took up several spaces. We walked through the bar and down a few more steps and that is when you truly enter the Bullet.

To the right, a dance floor which was crowded with a sea of men in cowboy hats pressed up close against their women, swaying to the strains of some country song. To the right, table after table – like some sort of giant catering hall that can host a 500 person wedding. Neon signs flashed everywhere and disco balls hung from the ceiling.

The men mostly wore cowboy hats (I haven’t so many since I attended the rodeo in Houston) and western wear (starched shirts, Wranglers, big belts) – although some looked more like bikers (jeans and t-shirts with the occasional splash of leather). And while mullets were thankfully scarce (although not completely missing), at least 90% of the men sported Dale Earnhardt style mustaches and all of them smoked.

Marty and Rick – both facial-hair free – stood out in their sage green and peach Polos respectively.

The women wore sequined tops, too tight jeans (giving whole new meaning to the term muffin topping) and had enough bleach in their hair to start a Clorox factory. One woman wore a top so hideous (it reminded me of the sequin halter I once purchased to wear to a Disco Inferno mixer in college) it prompted Rick to wonder out loud what she HADN’T chosen to wear that night. Another woman looked like Jane Fonda in 9 to 5 and writhed in her seat like Debra Winger on the mechanical bull in Urban Cowboy. Perms, bangs and feathers were a reminder that hairstyles are one thing that have not evolved down here. The women too had cigarettes permanently glued to their lips and many used the one they were smoking to light the one in their hand.

In fact, the 3 of us may have been the only people in the bar NOT smoking. It was so smoky that my eyes stung – the first time that has ever happened in 15+ years of going to bars.

Brown bagging is allowed at the Bullet and many of tables were littered with bottles of everything from Jack to vodka to straight rot gut – all delicately concealed in paper bags. The South’s answer to bottle service. Waitresses shuttled mostly set-ups (bottles of Sun-Drop, Coke and OJ along with buckets of ice and maraschino cherries) as well as beer. No need to buy a cocktail. And I certainly didn’t ask to see a wine list.

The DJ played everything from country songs I didn’t know to disco to the Electric Slide – that staple of 80s bar mitzvahs and 90s sweet sixteens everywhere. The dance floor for that was packed. Sadly, his tenure was short-lived as a fairly terrible band took the stage soon after we arrived. They looked like an 80s hair band, sounded worse than the karaoke singers at Zippers, and covered the sort of obvious songs – Talk Dirty To Me, Pour Some Sugar on Me – that allow obvious women the opportunity to act even more obvious by singing along suggestively while grinding in time to the music.

Eventually, the bad music and oppressive cigarette smoke were too much to take and we stepped outside onto the patio for a breather and some peace. But not 5 minutes later did an angry man come storming out, a pit bull of a fellow close at his heels. The angry man overturned a chair as he stormed through the patio in frustration, the pit bull right behind him. I thought a fight was getting ready to break out but it turned out the pit bull was the bouncer and he essentially chased the chair overturning, angry man out of the bar. Still, I was expecting nothing less from the Bullet so in that regard, it delivered.

I walked away from the evening completely satisfied. Perhaps because I had pages of notes on things to write about (and my goal after all is to keep you, my dear readers, entertained). Perhaps because I got to witness a culture so foreign from anything I know that it was by all counts entertaining. Or maybe I was just getting in touch with my inner country girl.

Whatever it was, I can honestly say this about the Bullet:

If that ain’t country, I’ll kiss your…

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sometimes people surprise you.

I don't know what I was expecting when I went to a 7pm showing of Oliver Stone's World Trade Center at the local Lincolnton 8-plex tonight. I was thinking more about the film and its possible impact on me, and less about the response from the people around me.

There were less than a dozen people in the theater. I don't think that's a reflection on Lincolnton's appetite for the subject matter. It's more a reflection on the fact that people don't go to the movies on a Sunday night. There were probably 15 cars total in the parking lot.

Before I continue, I will take a moment to say this: the film is excellent. I don't think it is gratuitous in any way as Mr. Stone has avoided showing much of the direct events (i.e. the planes hitting the towers)and instead focuses on how lives were impacted that day. It is also a story of hope. And while more people perished than survived, the 20 men and women pulled alive from the rubble are a symbol to me of everything that is right in this world.

So why was I surprised? Well, for starters, at the end of the film, the audience clapped. I didn't. But I was surprised that others did. To me, clapping at the end of a film seems like such a NYC thing to do. Maybe that's because most of the movies I've seen in my life have been seen in NYC and I have no frame of reference. Maybe they clap at good movies everywhere. I don't know. All I know is that it surprised me.

The next surprise came as the majority of the audience stayed seated through the credits. There were no funny outtakes. No post-credit surprise scenes a la Shrek 2. Just white text on a black screen rolling along to the solemn strains of a cello (or maybe it's a violin. You think being married to a musician I'd know the difference by now). Again, sitting through the credits is a very NYC (or LA) thing to do. I might not have noticed it but Rick made a comment (and he sees most of his movies in Houston).

I suppose these acts tonight demonstrate that what happened on September 11th affected everyone - even those who might not have witnessed those terrible events first hand. Those who didn't hear the explosions. Or see the towers crumble in front of their very eyes. Those who didn't breathe in rubble. Or smell the acrid stench that blanketed New York the next day.

Men and women who were safe in the cloistered environs of Lincolnton, NC were still deeply affected. And 5 years later, watching the story of 2 brave men unfold on screen, they responded with the same visceral emotion as someone who was there to experience the horror firsthand.

The again, perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised. After all, if the events of September 11th did anything, it was to unite us all together as Americans.

And that's a Country I am proud to be part of.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The If That Ain't Country Reality Tour

Do y'all remember that episode of Seinfeld where J. Peterman writes his memoirs using Kramer's stories so Kramer tells everyone he is the real Peterman and begins leading the "Peterman Reality Tour" for $37.50?

Well now readers of this blog who visit Lincolnton can take the If That Ain't Country Reality Tour.

Our first customer? Rick Cook, our friend from Houston who came in for the weekend to visit.

He arrived last night in Charlotte, and by the time we got back to Lincolnton at around 10, we opted to go to Fatz for a drink. Why Fatz? Well, of all of Lincolnton's "bars" it's the nicest and the clientele is fairly innocuous (the same can not be said for other Lincolnton establishments).

But Fatz shuts down at 11pm - even on a Friday and we weren't ready to go home. So I suggested Zippers. After all, Rick is an avid reader of the blog and I figured he would want to experience some real, authentic Lincolnton social culture.

So off we drove to Zippers. As it was pouring rain and I didn't have an umbrella, the boys dropped me off in front of the bar while they went to park.

I walked in and immediately a young man sitting at the bar asked me if I was lost.

I had a good internal chuckle and said that no, I wasn't lost, I was just a bit frizzy. He gave me another once over and quickly deduced that in my fitted black dress with cap sleeves, a sweetheart neck and a bottom which tapered at my knees like a pencil skirt, and my leopard print, pony skin D'orsay heels from Hollywould that I was not a local.

And I'll admit, I stood out in the mostly jeans wearing biker bar crowd. But I assured him I was indeed a local and relished in the fact that I could cause such a stir.

Lenny (the man's name) offered me his seat and helped me flag down the bartender to order a round of beers (about all you want to drink at Zippers.)

By this time Marty and Rick had entered and made their way to where we were sitting. Marty introduced himself as my brother (when I asked him later why he did that, he told me felt bad about busting Lenny's grove as he tried to pick me up!) but no fool was Lenny. He deduced we were married although that didn't stop him from flirting with me under Marty's watchful eye.

So we hung out Zippers and had a few beers, listening to the warbling strains of average karaoke singers belting out country tunes. It was crowded - much more crowded than the night we went in May. And the crowd was younger for sure - many in their late 20s, early 30s. Although that didn't seem to stop the wave of outdated perms, poor fashion choices and too much eye make-up.

Today, we brought Rick to Don's Grill for lunch where he was introduced to a hamburger Carolina style (chili, slaw, mustard and onions) and Sundrop (a sort of Mountain Dew type citrus soda quite prevalent in these parts).

We are going out again tonight to continue the If That Ain't Country Reality Tour. Lenny invited us to join him at a music venue in Cornelius called The Double Door. Or there's always the famous Silver Bullet.

Our neighbor Carl, who drives an 18-wheeler (and who incidentally was the one who introduced us to both Zippers and Iron Thunder), pulls back into town tonight and will join us so I am sure there will be some interesting tales to share tomorrow.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...
A Return to Heaven

So Marty and I returned to Mansour Zand's The Willow Creek Inn for another wonderful dinner.

The night was stormy and rain clouds seemed to follow us the entire way from Linclonton to Vale.

Mansour once again greeted us at the door although this time he had doffed his chef whites in favor of a long sleeve shirt and pants. We were lead to the kitchen where a beautiful table for 3 was set. Candles flickered. Jazz played softly in the background. Rain pitter pattered on the windows. It was truly scenic.

I think the thing I love most about his kitchen is that it's not perfect. It looks like a real kitchen - one where someone cook and creates and does it all with love. There are piles of cookbooks and an open box of Oatmeal Raisin Crisp on the counter and dishes in the sink and boxes along the walls which contain no doubt some of the many items needed for catering and hosting large parties. It is as un-Martha Stewart as it gets.

We offered up our contribution for the evening - a bottle of Talbott's Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay which Mansour promptly opened and poured into 3 glasses.

We started off with a trio of flatbreads inlcudin pita, lavosh and another bread whose name I did not catch that is shipped to him from California. The breads were accompanied by a delcious salad of yougurt, cucumbers, dill, mint, red onion, raisins and walnuts. There was also a piece of Armenian goat's cheese, a small dish of cumin seeds, a bowl of fresh walnuts, a handful of whole radishes and another handful of whole scallions.

Mansour showed us how to take a piece of cheese, put it in a piece of lavosh, sprinkle it with cumin seeds, add a walnut piece and roll the whole thing up and pop it in our mouth. This he said, was breakfast for him 365 days a year. The salt of the cheese and the earthiness of the walnut were the perfect foil for the cumin seeds (honestly - I've never been a big fan of cumin)and they were delciious.

As was the salad which had plenty of heat from the onions tempered by the cooling yogurt and the sweetness of the raisins.

Our second course came to the table in a large green Le Creuset Dutch Oven which looked as if it has been put to good use over the years. Lifting the lid revealed a savory stew of lamb, eggplant and fresh tomatoes (once again - right from Mansour's garden). Mansour also brought a platter heaped with saffron rice. The rice wasn't bright yellow - which most saffron rices are. No. The rice was white and fluffy with delicate threads of saffron sprinkled througout for patches of gold here and there. The rice smelled divine (I swear it's loaded with butter) and on top where large slices of cripsy, buttery potatoes that have now surpassed McDonald's fries as the most perfect potato on earth.

We ate leisurley, filling our plates up on more than one occasion. Mansour ate the raw scallions with his stew so I followed suit. There mild and crunchy and the perfect accompaniment to the rich stew.

When we could eat no more, Mansour brought out some small plates with dates and cookies and plied us with a sweet tea that he says is his secret blend.

The talk turned to politics and the state of affairs in the world. I feared that Marty would go off on one of his ultra right wing rampages but he didn't and we had a delightfuly civilized conversation where we were all on the same page of things.

Mansour told us he loves to read and that he's reading 5 books concurrently including The Kite Runner which he said he couldn't put down. I recommended he read The Rabbit Factory .

The foul weather prevented from seeing more of his property so at a little after 10pm with bellies full and content, eyes droopy in anticipation of sleep we made our goodbyes. Mansour insisted that we not pay him for dinner and although we objected at first, we finally relented. After all, paying would have taken away from the true nature of the evening which was simply a couple of friends enjoying good food and good wine and good company.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Closed 365 Days A Year

So it's amazing what you can find when you are looking for a skeevy country and western bar. Yes - Sunday afternoon, en route home from the mountains, Marty and I made 2 detours.

The first, was a detour into Hickory where we stopped at Circus Hall of Cream for what may be the best milkshake ever (it's the sort of milkshake that you can only have a few sips at a time, and then you need to wait a minute so that more of the ice cream will melt so you can get it up through the straw).

The second detour was onto Route 10 where we decided to head to check out the Silver Bullet. Not that it's open on a Sunday afternoon. But Marty and I both are intrigued with checking it out (I am strictly interested for the purposes of this blog) and so west on Route 10 we headed.

While heading that way my eye caught a sign that said "Willow Creek Inn. Fine Dining." with an arrow so after checking out the Bullet (essentially a small, decript shack topped by a woman riding a bullet (classy) and attached to some sort of massive large-scale room to accommodate the masses), we took yet a third detour because honestly - when you see a sign advertising fine dining in Lincoln County, you check it out.

After a few miles of driving on windy country road with not much else but pastures, we thought we had missed it or perhaps I had mis-read the sign. We had given up, but then we saw another sign with another arrow so we turned from one country road to another and eventually, we came upon a little yellow house called the Willow Creek Inn. It was closed, but I walked along a stone path lined with Malibu lights and pressed my nose up against the door and looked into what appeared to be a charming restaurant.

When we got home, a quick Yahoo search yielded a website which painted a picture of a charming, off-the-beaten path venue in Vale, NC (so that's where we were) with plenty of space for weddings and banquets. It had been in business since 1994 which I took as a good sign. The website also said "menu changes daily" so there was no way to check that type of food the chef was serving up.

Nonetheless, I called Monday morning to make a reservation.

We hit our first problem when I asked for a table at 8pm. I was told that 8pm was too late. Given the fact that I am generally not home til 7, we comprised on 7:30.

The next thing that threw me was when the man on the other end of the phone asked if we ate steak. Well, of course, but did I have to choose Monday at 10 a.m. what I was going to eat on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.? Was there not a menu? I was told there was no menu so I guess it was steak.

Wednesday evening Marty and I made the drive to Vale. There were few cars on the road and when we turned off the main road to begin the windy trek to Willow Creek Inn, we saw no cars. All there was to see was pasture after pasture, acre after acre of corn and the occasional field of cows. Houses were scattered and the whole scene felt very...isolated. Marty joked that we were heading literally to the middle of nowhere and wondered if we should be concerned.

We were pleased to see 2 other cars when we pulled up to the little yellow house although Marty suspected they belonged to staff. He was part right.

We were greeted at the door by Mansour Zand - the chef proprietor of Willow Creek Inn. He was in his chef whites and he led us to a delightful table for two in a beautiful red dining room. Another couple were dining nearby which made us fell better. When we were seated he offered us a choice of red or white wine. Marty asked if there was wine list. There was none so knowing we were having steak, we both opted for red. Mr. Zand came back with a decanter of Shiraz and filled our glasses.

And with the steak issue having been addressed 2 days ago, there was no need to order.

A fresh salad soon made an appearance. Simple but divine - with many of the ingredients, including a wonderful, juicy tomato, coming from Mr. Zand's garden.

The steak appeared next. Pan seared ribeye simply seasoned with salt and pepper, the steak was beautifully cooked and was without question the best steak we have had since moving to NC. It was accompanied by some grilled vegetables, a delicious pile of eggplant that spoke to Mr. Zand's Middle Eastern heritage (he is of French-Persian descent), and a rice dish that was so incredible it puts all other rice dishes to shame. I don't know what was in it but it was buttery and rich and smoky and was utterly delicious.

As we heaped our praises on the chef after such a delicious meal, he was charmingly unassuming, assuring us that he was not THAT talented. We contended otherwise.

After our empty plates were cleared, Mr. Zand asked if we liked chocolate. Of course! Soon we were looking at 2 slices of chocolate layer plate garnished with the most gorgeous fresh figs. Now I admit - I am not a cake girl. I find most cakes to be dry, crumbly and/or cloyingly sweet. Mr. Zand's cake (which he bakes himself)is rich, moist, and deeply chocolate. Heaven!

He also offered us Turkish Coffee but seeing as I nearly had a heart attack last week when the woman at Caribou Coffee gave me caffeinated instead of the decaf I had ordered, I declined.

After dinner, Mr. Zand sat down and chatted with us. We bombarded him with questions about the restaurant, how he ended up in Vale and the lack of menus.

As it turns out, Mr. Zand moved here in the late 1980s after visiting a friend and falling in love with the property. He opened the restaurant in 1994 and has never had a menu. He gets to know his customers and tailors each meal to their likes. In fact, the restaurant requires membership (which I didn't quite get) and Willow Creek Inn now boasts 2500 members (although not surprisingly, less than 5 are from Lincolnton).

He will host group nights say, Artist Night, which allows him to bring together say a group of artists who can enjoy a home cooked meal and share in their common interests.

He also hosts a well-known Native American night that involves a buffalo on a spit and a large bonfire among other things.

There is no doubt that Willow Creek Inn attracts a diverse mix of people. And Mr. Zand, who was discreet enough not to drop names, did tell us about the time a group of senior members of the U.S. government came to dine. The Secret Service came in, removed all of the furniture, and then re-outfitted the restaurant with their own furniture for security reasons. The politicians skipped the isolated, winding country roads and instead landed on Mr. Zand's farm in helicopters.

If it feels like you are eating in someone's home, it's because you are. Willow Creek Inn is everything to Mr. Zand. His home. His livelihood. His passion.

He jokes that he is closed 365 days a year...unless you call. Then he will open up his home - and his heart - and let you in.

All in all, it was a special evening and left Marty and I feeling overjoyed at our discovery.

And because I was so enamored of the rice, Mr. Zand has invited us back tonight to dine with him in his kitchen. He has promised to make us a rice dish that will blow us away. I can't wait.

p.s. When you come down to visit, remember to ask us to bring you to The Willow Creek Inn. It will blow YOU away.

Check it out: www.thewillowcreekinn.com

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Study in Duality

My life has truly become a study in duality. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms meets Wall Street.

At 6:15am - the sun's not even up yet - and Elvis and Ann-Margaret are at the fence waiting to be fed (hmmm....I thought I had a whole pasture out there to graze on).

By 6:30am - showered but not dressed or maquiallaged - I am en route to the pasture, bucket of clean water in one hand, scoop of chow in the other (and these days a syringe full of cherry flavored antibiotics). All that's missing are the overalls.

But I quickly morph from farmhand to excutive and it does not take long to slip into my shift and faux-Chanel jacket, slide on my Coach stilettos and drive to the city where I think about ways to raise millions of dollars.

I feel bad that I have not been writing as much recently. In all honesty, these posts have fallen off for a few reasons. One is that I am simply so busy. Between 10 hour days at the office plus 2 hours commuting I have little time when I get home to do much else other than unwind.

Second, as I live here longer and acclimate more, these wacky city girl meets country girl experiences seems to occur less frequently. Short of the continued goat drama (which I know gets tiresome to many of you), life has become more and more normal.

So while I have certainly not run out of things to say (for example, why every salad down here is covered in shredded in cheddar) it will just take more time.

Your patience with me is extremely appreciated.

Stay tuned...And y'all come back now, ya hear?