Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tasty Delights

In previous posts, I have written about 2 truly southern culinary phenomena: spicy pimento cheese and watermelon pickles.

Because you are not likely to find these items in Citarella of D'Agostinos, I thought I would share recipes so you could recreate these tasty delights for yourselves and share in a true If That Ain't Country experience.

Spicy Pimento Cheese

This recipe comes from the Foster's cookbook and was given to me by Dr. Maggie Walkup when I visited her recently in Chapel Hill. Maggie was thrilled that I had discovered and fallen in love with spicy pimento cheese and told me this was the best recipe ever.

Mix 1 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese, 1-1/2 cups of grated Parmesan cheese, and 1 cup grated smoked gouda together.

In a separate bowl, mix together the following ingredients: 1 roasted red bell pepper* (chopped), 1 roasted green bell pepper (chopped), 1 cup of mayonnaise, 1 jalapeno (seeded and minced), 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.

Add this mixture to the cheeses and combine. Couldn't be easier - could it?

I have not tried this recipe myself, so if it sucks, take it up with Maggie.

* For those who don't know how to roast a pepper, it's simple. Take a whole pepper and put it over a high flame. This can be a grill if you have one, or a burner on your stove (in which case you'd hold the pepper over the flame with tongs). You want to char the outside of the pepper so that the skin gets all black and blistery. You'll notice the pepper starts to soften too. When the pepper is nice and charred, take it off the heat and plunk it into a brown paper bag and wrap it up tight. Allow the pepper to "steam" in the bag for about 10 - 15 minutes. Then take it out of the bag and peel off the skin and reove the seeds. Slice, dice or chop it - whatever the recipe calls for. And if that seems like too much trouble, just go to the store and buy a jar of pimentos. It's the same thing.

Watermelon Pickles

This recipe comes from my mother-in-law, Carole Varner. According to her, this is an amalgam of several different recipes that she has tweaked and tinkered to make her own.

Watermelon pickles come from watermelon rind. You want the white part only - no fleshy pink meat and no tough green skin. For this recipe you will need 3 quarts (or 12 cups) of watermelon rind cut into bite size cubes (Carole suggested 1 inch by 1/2 inch cubes. 1 inch square cubes are too big).

Place the watermelon rind cubes in a large pot. Mix 1 tablespoon of pickling lime with 2 quarts of cold water and pour over the rind. Allow to soak for 1 hour. Drain the pot of water.

Cover the rind with fresh water and bring to a boil over medium heat until fork tender - about 10 minutes. Drain the water.

Combine 2 tablespoons of whole allspice, 2 tablespoons of whole cloves and 5 cinnamon sticks - each broken in half) in a cheesecloth bag (just buy cheesecloth, cut off a big square, put all the spices in the middle, and wrap up) and add to the pot with the watermelon rind. Add 1 quart of white vinegar, 1 quart of fresh water and 7 cups of sugar. Cook over low heat for about 30 minutes until a syrup forms. Remember, the watermelon rind has already been cooked so the purpose of this step is the syrup and the flavor the watermelon rind with the spices. You'll know it's done because a) you'll have a syrup but b) the watermelon will become somewhat translucent.

Spoon the pickles into hot, sterlile jars and pour syrup over. Put on the lid, stick in the fridge (after it's cooled of course) and voila, a handy dandy southern condiment to bring out at your next big yankee BBQ. Actually, Carole did give me all sort of tips at about canning (or jarring as the case may be) and turning upside down to get a good seal but honestly, I'm not going to can these (unless I decide to send these out as a Christmas gift this year) - I'm going to throw them in a disposable plastic container and call it a day.

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

Sunday, September 24, 2006

BBQ 101

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

My first trip to RO’s was supposed to be life-changing. It was supposed to be monumental. It was supposed to be blog-worthy like my jaunt to the Chuckwagon. And while I am taking the time to write about the experience, sadly there’s not much I can tell you.

Marty has talked about RO’s forever so when we decided to stop by and get some BBQ on the way home from synagogue yesterday I was thrilled.

“My parents used to come here on dates when they were teenagers,” he said. “This place has been around forever and they have the best BBQ.”

As we drove through Gastonia, I tried to imagine what we would encounter. I pictured some ramschackle building in downtown Gastonia with blue haired ladies running BBQ to long time patrons. I pictured big pots of simmering sauce and huge hunks of pork butt being shredded and minced for sandwiches and vats of home made slaw. I pictured plastic tables and holey vinyl benches and bad lighting – you know that wonderfully stale and decrepit atmosphere that is completely offset by the deliciousness of the food being served?

We pulled up and Marty asked me, “What do you want?”

“What do they have?”

“I don’t know. BBQ. I guess you could get fried chicken if you want.”

“I mean – can we go in and look at a menu?”

“That’s not part of the experience.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you don’t go inside. They take your order out here and bring it to you. You’re going to ruin the traditional RO’s experience and then you won’t be able to write about it on your blog.”

I looked around. We were in a regular parking lot. Nothing indicated that this was a drive-in like the Chuckwagon.

Marty pointed to a group of 3 teenage boys in green RO’s polos and aprons, hanging out by the back door. “They take your order,” he said. Given that they were hanging around so casually (one may have been smoking a cigarette), I had naturally assumed they were on a break.

“But where’s the menu?” Did people just come to RO’s and automatically know what to order? I look at the menu when we go to Don’s and everyone knows you go to Don’s for hot dogs and cheeseburgers (except me – I frequently get the grilled chicken plate or the French dip). “I mean – do they have BBQ plates or do I have to get a sandwich?”

“I don’t know. I always get 2 jumbos to go.”

That didn’t help me. “Fine,” Marty huffed and got out of the car.

RO’s was indeed in the type of small, plain jane building I’ve come to learn can house some of the South’s best cooking. A neon sign stuck out above the restaurant and a sign in one window said since 1946.

As we walked across the parking lot I tried to make Marty feel better about the decision to break with tradition. “You know sweetie – I can’t very well write about sitting in the car. I need to see what it looks like and get a feel for the atmosphere.”

Of course, we opened the front door to find a wall of people. I didn’t even see what the inside looked like. All I saw was 2 people’s backs and not much else. So I can’t tell you much about RO’s and if it all lived up to my fantasy version.

We turned around and went right back to the car and flagged one of the green-shirted boys to come take our order.

“What can I get you,” he asked?

Marty looked at me and I shrugged. “Just get me whatever you normally get.”

“Four jumbos,” Marty said to the boy.

“Shredded or sliced?”

“Shredded.”

“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” the young man said.

I looked at Marty. The order seemed anemic to me. Shouldn’t there have been a side order – some slaw or something.

“I guess we still have some slaw at home,” I muttered.

“You don’t need slaw,” he replied. “It’s on the sandwich.”

Oh. Maybe I would have known these things had I seen a menu.

“Did we really need 4 JUMBOs,” I inquired?

“I always get an extra one and stick it in the fridge and eat it cold the next day. That’s the thing about RO’s. You can eat them hot, room temperature or right out of the fridge and they still taste good.” More lessons learned.

Less than 5 minutes later a bag of food was brought to the car. Marty handed it to me while he paid. It was heavy.

As it turns out, RO’s does make excellent BBQ. The sandwich is a simple combination of shredded pork (perfectly cooked and not too dry), some slaw and the vinegar-based BBQ sauce North Carolina is famous for, all piled onto a soft, doughy, slightly sweet roll. My only issue was that the sandwich could have used a little more sauce.

Marty said that the ratio of meat to sauce was off – that whoever had made these had put too much meat, that normally it was a thinner layer of meat.

Still, the sandwich was delicious and I was glad I had one more in the fridge for the next day.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

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



Saturday, September 23, 2006

Baruch Atah Adonai Y’all

Marty and I attended Rosh Hashana services at Temple Emanuel in Gastonia this morning. Although I tried not to constantly make comparisons to my former congregation in NYC, I couldn’t help it.

The congregation I belonged to in New York is big. It is high profile. The building is a national historical landmark Tickets for high holiday services go for prices you might expect to pay a scalper for Madonna tickets.

Although the temple can accommodate plenty of people, so many people attend high holiday services that most services are split into 2 (except for the Yom Kippur morning service which can’t be split so many of us find ourselves worshipping in a makeshift temple in the Starlight ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria). In the last few years, membership has increased so much that they have even set up folding chairs and a large screen TV in a reception space underneath the sanctuary for those who arrive too late to grab a seat. Oh – and services are also webcast.

There was a period when our congregation met as one. After a fire broke out in the synagogue in the 1998 just weeks before Rosh Hashana, Governor Pataki gave permission for us to meet and worship in the Park Avenue Armory (it required his permission as the armory is a government building and there must be some sort of rules about using government facilities for religious purposes). The size of the armory, decorated on short notice by Robert Isabel, was so massive that for a few years while we waited for our temple to be rebuilt, our congregation worshipped as a unified body on even the busiest of days. These years were punctuated with visits from Pataki and Giuliani, which definitely contributed to the high profile I mentioned earlier.

When the refurbished and rebuilt temple re-opened, it was magnificent. I mean- it had always been magnificent (a girl at my Bat Mitzvah said it seemed more like a church than a synagogue) but now it was simply breathtaking. You didn’t want to walk on the tiled floor because the mosaic was so beautiful. The wooden pews seemed to gleam. The stained glass windows shone.

Of course, what should have been a joyous occasion was marked by sadness. Our first high holiday services in the new building were in 2001. September 11th was a fresh wound and we all felt like targets.

Pataki and Giuliani, who had been honorary members of our congregation for 3 years, who had lent their support when we found ourselves in desperate need, and who were on hand to welcome us back to our home, were newly minted heroes in light of the terror attacks and their presence on our beemah was thrilling. Celebrity shul.

While we had always had security, 2001 marked a dramatic shift in policy and by the following year, getting to synagogue felt like planning a trip to the airport and you definitely wanted to get there early. Thousands of people. Unreserved seating. If we wanted our usual left center seats about 10 rows back, we had to beat the crowd. Plus, long lines formed while people and their bags were manually searched before entering the building.

The tone of the sermons changed too. They became, in my opinion, more political and less spiritual. I began to feel no connection to the rabbi, to the congregation, or to the synagogue that I had called home for most of my 30 years. In fact, the only reason I continued to worship there was because I wanted to be with my family.

Not that I am super Jew. I am not. I rarely go to Friday night Shabbat services, the only time I have been to Saturday morning services in the last 15 years was when a cousin was being Bar or Bat Mitzvahed and I usually have to look up the answers to questions posed to me by my husband’s non-Jewish family

Mother in-law: So Sarah – what exactly is Hanukah?

Me: Um – well it has to do with the Maccabees and a battle and they only had oil to last for one night but it miraculously lasted for 8 and that’s why you eat fried foods.

Mother in-law (slightly confused): Oh.

Me: Sorry. I know. That wasn’t a good explanation. Let me Google that and I’ll get back to you.

Still, I am a spiritual person and the few times I am involved in the ritual of religion, I want it to be satisfying.

So being in North Carolina for the High Holidays was exciting. It was a chance to find a new congregation, a new rabbi, and a new source of spiritual inspiration.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I skipped the large Charlotte congregation (despite the excellent reputation of the head rabbi) in favor of a more local community.

This morning Marty and I chose to go to Temple Emanuel in Gastonia. Although services started at 10am and the synagogue is only 20 minutes away, I made Marty leave the house at 9:15. What can I say – force of habit.

The building is on a corner in downtown Gastonia right down the street from an Episcopal church and a Masonic temple. We pulled into the lot at the same time as the lay leader (the congregation does not have a rabbi) Dr. Brown and we were greeted with a warm L’shana Tovah.

The building – not a national landmark – was built in 1913 and is charming in its simplicity. I was particularly drawn to the curved wooden menorahs on either side of the beemah.

Most rows were marked reserved so Marty and I took seats towards the back and waited. A few minutes before 10, Dr. Brown approached and asked if we were up for doing an aliyah. I think I looked confused (I was – for some reason I was thinking of a minyon) so he quickly began to chant the familiar blessing. After explaining that Marty wasn’t Jewish, I said I would be happy to do the aliyah. Dr. Brown asked Marty to accompany me to the beemah.

Why did I agree to such insanity? I don’t know. I thought back to my NY congregation and to the fact that I’d never – not in a million years – be asked to read an aliyah. Or light a candle. Or dress the Torah. I thought of all the politics involved (not to mention the donations that must be made) for one to be tapped for one of these honorary roles.

And I thought it was so wonderful that here, a stranger to this temple, and I was asked to participate. I was flattered. No – I was honored. So I guess I accepted out of pride.

It also helped that Dr. Brown had a transliteration of the aliyah on hand. As I looked at the words and practiced chanting them in my head, it was like refamiliarizing myself with a childhood song. I mean, I haven’t listened to Really Rosie in 20 some odd years but if someone asked me to sing a song (or 3) from the album, I probably could. And if I had the lyrics on hand, I could get through the whole album.

Services began. A member of the congregation stood on the beemah with Dr. Brown and read the English. He read and chanted the Hebrew and occasionally played a Casio keyboard when we came to a song. Not quite the organ and choir I was used to in NY, but not bad either.

Then came time for the Torah service. I began to panic. Why had I agreed to do an aliyah? I hadn’t chanted Hebrew on a beemah since my Bat Mitzvah – nearly 20 years ago. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was going to embarrass myself. I watched as the first 2 aliyahs were performed. Oh my GOD!!! These people were reading Hebrew from their prayer books. They weren’t using the transliteration cheat sheet. I quickly turned to the transliteration in the back of my prayer book. Could I memorize this in the next 2 minutes before I was called? Could I pull it off? I looked at the words but the panic just grew and so did my ability to process anything.

Marty and I were called to the beemah as “our new friends.” I felt so welcomed – like such a part of the community even though I was a stranger. Although I desperately wanted to read from my prayer book, common sense won out over pride and I stood next to Dr. Brown, who had the cheat sheet laid out next to the Torah. I touched my prayer book to the Torah where Dr. Brown showed me and then touched it to my lips.

Then I began to chant.

Ba-r'chu et A-do-nai ha-m'vo-rach!

My voice sounded high and thin in my ears. My legs were shaking. Had Marty not been there, I might have collapsed.

The congregation replied: Ba-ruch A-do-nai ha-m'vo-rach l'o-lam va-ed!

I didn’t look up at them. I kept my eyes glued to the sheet and repeated: Ba-ruch A-do-nai Ha-m'vo-rach l'o-lam va-ed!

I felt 13 again. And then I remembered, that when I was 13, I kicked ass. I mean – not to brag, but I rocked my Bat Mitzvah and completely put the other girl getting Bat Mitzvahed with me to shame.

And so I decided to rock this aliyah. Who cared that I didn’t know the Hebrew by heart. I hadn’t done this in 19 years and here I was with less than an hour’s notice in a room full of strangers chanting like a pro. I thought – Mom and Dad would be proud. I was proud.

Still, with the post reading blessing still to chant, my legs continued to shake while Dr. Brown read the Torah and I found myself empathizing with anyone who’s ever had stage fright.

Dr. Brown stopped reading.

Ok Sarah. Bring it home.

I looked at the words on the page:

Ba-ruch a-tah A-do-nai, E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-o-lam.

Familiar words. I’d seen them and read them thousands of times. But shit – what was the melody? It wasn’t the usual melody was it? I started and then stopped. I think I said “Sorry” and once again found myself staring at the words on the page. Nothing. I was lost.

I turned and looked to Dr. Brown for guidance. A cue. “You got it,” he said. Bar-uch a-tah A-do-nai…the melody came back and despite a rocky start, I made it through the aliyah. I even lingered on the no-tein ha-torah to make up for the dismal start.

After services, we were introduced to a number of people. Many of them complimented me on my reading. I dismissed them, pointing out my gaffe at the end. They said it wasn’t noticeable and that I had chanted to beautifully. Again I thought, Mom and Dad would be proud. I was proud.

As Marty and lingered after services I thought about Rosh Hashana services last year in NY. I thought about my dad and I making a mad dash for the door right after the benediction to avoid the otherwise 10-minute long exit process and the even longer search for a taxi. Three minutes after the benediction we were out of the temple and in a taxi heading up Third Avenue. Of course, we’d left my mother and brother behind and they weren’t too pleased with our behavior. We hadn’t even turned to say “Happy New Year” we’d been so focused on making our escape.

Not an issue here.

After we left, Marty and I drove to RO’s for a couple of BBQ sandwiches to celebrate the new year.

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

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cause You Had a Bad Day

Because I am neither an American Idol (although I am undiscovered and fabulous) and because I have no earthly idea how to technically and/or legally download the Daniel Powter song of the same name to play in the background while you read this post, please feel free to hum along while you read instead.

Cause you had a bad day
You're taking one down
You sing a sad song just to turn it around...


It started when I left the house 10 minutes later than usual because my morning had been filled with extra tasks like putting the sheets and towels in the washer (for the cleaning lady), picking up some clutter around the house (for the cleaning lady), running the dishwasher (for the cleaning lady), - I will pause here to point out how much work goes into getting the house ready for the cleaning lady, a concept I have never fully grasped - blow drying my hair (which takes an extra 5 - 7 minutes because it's so freaking looooooooooong) and of course, stopping to feed Elvis and Ann-Margaret.

While normally I take the back roads in the morning, 85 takes less time and I thought I could make up the difference by hopping on the Interstate. Bad call. The difference between leaving at 7am and 7:10am is rush hour. While 85 is normally congested the rare mornings I take it, it was a down right parking lot yesterday.

I knew I could get off in McAdenville (exit 23 versus exit 36 where I normally get off) and cut over to Wilkinson - which runs parallel to 85 - I just wasn't sure how. I thought I'd wing it and see a sign or two but a few wrong turns and 10 minutes later and I was lost. I finally stopped at a gas station where I got directions (I was close but would have never found it on my own) and eventually made it into work after an hour and 20 minutes. I could have just taken the back roads and made it in in an hour.

I'll leave out the details of my work day but I'll tell you this. I am in sales and marketing. A big piece of that job - no matter what you are selling - is rejection. I had a healthy dose of it yesterday and it left me feeling rather blue.

Though I arrived to work late, I cut out a few minutes early. Once again, I skipped 85 in favor of Wilkinson - partly because of rush hour headaches and partly because I needed to stop at a Michael's to look for something and the closest Michael's is in Gastonia on Wilkinson (well - it's technically on Franklin but Wilkinson turns into Franklin).

I am cruising along in the pick-up, all is well, traffic's not too bad. I am thinking I'll make it home at a reasonable hour so I can spend some time with Elvis and Ann-Margaret. Thinking perhaps Marty and I will head up to Hickory for some wings and trivia. When BAM! I get into my first fender bender.

As I was trying to move from the middle lane to the right lane, I got hit from behind by another truck. Traffic had been stopped so impact was minimal (sort of).

I do not accept or deny responsibility - although legally because I was moving into his lane, I am considered at fault.

We pulled our two trucks off the road into the parking lot of a used car lot. He called 911 to report the accident. I panicked.

The other driver was fairly angry (you can imagine) and I was relieved when the local Cramerton police arrived on the scene. Of course, for reasons I don't quite understand, the accident was not in their jurisdiction so Highway Patrol had to be dispatched.

While we waited, the other driver and I got to talking. As it turns out, we are both from NY/NJ, we both left work early and we both NEVER take 74 home. When I told the State Trooper this later on, he said: "We'll, I guess y'all just had to meet."

I am of course all right physically although mentally, I've been knocked down a peg or 6000 when it comes to driving. My confidence level is probably on par with a teenage girl who's just got her permit (which incidentally, the daughter of the man who hit me had just passed her test that morning). You should have seen me this morning trying to shift lanes. It was pitiful.

The only (sort of) bright spot in all of this, is that my truck KICKED ASS. While we were waiting for Highway Patrol, the other driver caught me surveying the damage to my truck. It didn't seem too bad - a dent in the rear right fender (or bumper - I don't quite know the difference) and some scratches on the paint. As he looked from my car to the shattered orange glass that used to be his left headlight scattered on Wilkinson and what remained of his left front fender (or bumper - I don't quite know the difference) he said: "That's one tough truck you got there. I hit you pretty hard and it doesn't look too bad."

While I nodded meekly out of respect for the situation, on the inside I was full of pride and beaming. I thought: you're damn right my truck is tough.

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

p.s. To those who might post comments about their own first bender to make me feel better about this, keep in mind I am 31 years old and tales of being 16 and new behind the wheel are not quite as comforting as you think.
OOPS

So - I fell asleep while writing Monday night's post hence the not quite double post that's been sitting out there for several days. Sorry guys. Normally I check how it looks after I post but I was so sleepy I skipped the usual check....

Monday, September 18, 2006

My First Traffic Jam in Downtown Lincolnton

I experienced my first Lincolnton traffic jam on Saturday And it wasn't because of an accident. Or a lane closed down for construction. No. Our little town of 10,000 found itself flooded with visitors from all over the area (some coming from as far as 2 - 3 hours away) to celebrate the Lincoln County Apple Festival.
Yes - for a few hours on Saturday our sleepy little town turned into quite the buzzing metropolis (or at least a buzzing fairground).

Sadly - we (mostly) missed the actual festival. I know, you are wondering how I could miss such a large happening in such a small town. But it's not my fault. I knew the Apple Festival was on Saturday and I planned on attending. But I assumed it would last all day and well into the night. At least until 9 or 10 o'clock. I pictured a band playing out on the Courthouse Square. Maybe some fireworks.

Silly me. The Lincolnton Apple Festival lasted exactly 7 hours from 9am to 4pm. And I didn't figure that out til after 1pm when I had already encountered the traffic disaster AND I was unshowered and still in my running clothes.

Our run in with the festival related traffic came when Marty and I headed downtown at around noon to drop some mail off at the post office. I knew the Festival was going on so instead of heading straight downtown, I thought I'd take a back road and cut across Flint Street. Clever me. And clever 50 other people. You couldn't turn right on Main Street (7 whole blocks - a significant area in downtown Lincolnton - were closed off for the event) so there was a major logjam of cars as people tried to contemplate where to turn.

We inched along slowly until we finally got to a stop sign right before Main. We turned right and headed down the narrow street. Cars were parked on either side and in every available lot. Many commercial lots threatened towing if you parked their for the festival.

Marty and I actually covered the blocks we needed to get close enough to the post office. We pulled into a bank parking lot and I left Marty (still in his jammies) in the truck in case an overzealous bank employee was on duty and threatened to have us towed. Meanwhile I crossed through a crowd of people and a cornucopia of fair food smells (turkey legs, fresh corn on the cob, funnel cake) and made my way across Main Street to the drop box.

Then back through the throng and to the truck where we sat in another mess of traffic - all people trying to figure out how to get close to Main Street street while we tried to make our escape.

The whole excursion - which should have taken 15 minutes - took upwards of 45.

So while we missed the Apple Festival, we got a taste of the traffic.

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

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Lasaguna

It began when I awoke at 5:30am to the sound of Sebastian coughing up a hairball in the middle of the bed. Let me tell you - that's a Hell of a wake-up call and the morning did not improve.

I should stop for a moment to mention that it rained yesterday. All day. Non-stop. According to the news, we got three inches. According to my basement, it's more like 3 feet. Our former sump pump died after the last big rain (I've lost count of just how many "big rains" we've had) and while we purchased a new one, it hasn't been installed. And of course Marty is in New York. You know, it seems to rain in biblical proportions every time he travels to NY. I am pretty sure that means something. I just don't know what.

I will tell you that our basement isn't simply flooding from the volume of water being dumped from the skies. I know this because parts of the yard and the pasture were flooded as well. Not all. Just parts. The thought is we have a high water table and these torrential downpours cause water to rise up from the ground. It seems likely.

Anyways - back to the pump. I was forutnate that Carl called last night from the road and I mentioned we would need to borrow his portable pump and he offered to get it going when he got home this morning. So before I left for work today, dressed in my swanky new City Girl duds from Barney's, my feet pressed into my cold, still-damp-from-running-around-in-the-rain-yesterday driving shoes (including multiple trips through the soggy pasture to make sure that Elvis and Ann-Margaret hadn't drowned) I stepped outside to unlock the basement door so Carl could get in there while I was at the office. The water had risen so high it was well past the second step outside the door. I balanced myself gingerly on the top step and leaned in to unlock the padlock. Had I been in hip waders, it would have been one thing. But I wasn't. I was in a brand new Barney's outfit with my Louis Vuitton Alma dangling from my wrist, causing me to lean a little to the left which made the whole act of balancing on wet stone difficult.

It didn't help that I am fairly certain there was a dead fish floating in the stagnant water that had accumulated overnight outside the basement door. Where the fish came from I don't know - but I didn't have the time or energy to contemplate the situation. And isn't ironic that Marty's absence once again finds me with a flooded basement and a dead animal (of sorts)?

After managing to unlock the door I had to feed the goats who had been screaming already for several minutes. Normally I have a small Tupperware dish with me and I just scoop some feed, cross the yard to the pasture, feed them and then head straight to the car parked in the garage, keeping the Tupperware with me. But I forgot the container and didn't want to deal with going inside, turning off the alarm, finding the container and resetting the alarm. So I scooped some feed, crossed the cold wet yard, manuevered the gate open (Louis Vuitton still dangling from the wrist giving me no use of my left hand), dropped the Goat Chow in a rain filled trough (no time to empty it out and I certainly did not want to risk Elvis and Ann-Maragret - who have become quite aggressive at feedings - putting their muddy hooves on my new black wool pencil skirt with the inverted box pleat), then back across the yard to put the scoop away with the feed and then back across the yard again to the garage. Of course, every step in the wet, wet grass sent me into paroxysms of panic that mud would splatter onto my new clothes not to mention that my feet were so cold in the damp Tods.

And all of this before sunrise.

I must have been quite the sight trying to take care of my Country Girl life in my City Girl uniform. Still I eventually hoisted myself into the pick-up (not easy to do in a pencil skirt) and got on the road.

The highlight of my morning? As I passed by the Chuckwagon I saw tonight's dinner special advertised: Lasaguna.

That's not a typo. That's just so country I'll kiss your...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lincolnton: No Longer a 1-Jew Town


So, as it turns out, I am not the only Jew in Lincolnton. Just how many of us reside here remains to be seen, but I have been informed that there are Jews in Lincolnton. And Cherryville. And Shelby. And Gastonia.

In fact, that there is a small but strong Jewish population spanning a range of small towns on the outskirts of Charlotte.

How do I know all of this? The High Holidays are approaching and I need a temple.

This time last year - when I thought Marty and I were moving to NC (but of course wound up having to postpone) - I asked the rabbi who married us for a referral to a congregation in this part of the world. She suggested I look into Temple Beth El. With 1000+ families, it was (and still is) the largest reform congregation in North and South Carolina. Plus, she knew the rabbi there.

I spoke with someone in membership at Beth El who seemed nice enough, and when it turned out we wouldn't be down in NC for the holidays, I promised to follow-up when we did ulimately make the move.

And that was my plan. Until I actually moved and discovered that the congregation was located about 10 - 15 minutes past my office. Over 1 hour away from home. I thought about making the drive home - late at night after Kol Nidre, home on Yom Kippur when I'd likely be weak from hunger and dizzy from low blood sugar. I thought about the fact that I needed to drive over an hour to find a community of people who shared in my religious beliefs.

Then, to make things worse, I thought about what it means to be part of "the largest reform congregation in the Carolinas." Would I be able to find it spiritually fulfilling despite its size, as I had found my congregation in Houston to be? Would the politics overwhelm the religon, as was the case with my shul in New York? Did I even want to find out?

As terrible as this sounds, I did consider attending High Holiday services at Beth El simply for the networking opportunities it would afford. It seems that everything I do these days takes my job into consideration and the question: can this person or this situation help me raise money? So while hobnobbing among Charlotte's Jewish elite would probably help me work-wise, it otherwise left a bad taste in my mouth. And I don't say that because there is anything wrong with the congregation - I have never attended services, I have never heard the rabbis preach, and I know nothing about Beth El's philosophy.

I say that because what I kept coming back to (besides driving home hungry on Yom Kippur) was having to drive over an hour to find another Jew to worship with me. That didn't seem right.

So I went to the website for the United Association of Hebrew Congregations (which forwards to the Union for Reform Judaism)and searched the state of North Carolina. As it turns out, there are 17 reform congregations in North Carolina. And 2 are within 20 minutes of me.

One is in Gastonia, one is in Hickory. According to the website, both have ~ 70 families in membership. A far cry from the 1000 families at Beth El and an even farer cry (is farer a word?) from the hundreds of thousands of Jews I grew up with in New York. Still, I have exchanged voicemails with the wife of the president of the Hickory congregation and actually spoken to someone from the Gastonia congregation. It was he who told me that Lincolnton is not a 1-Jew town.

In the end, I have decided that discovering my local Jewish community is the most important thing I can do - both for me and for the family I one day hope to have. So Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur will likely find me splitting my time between Hickory and Gastonia looking for a local Jewish community that I can relate to and that inspires me.

What can I say. I love my life here. I am happy here. And I don't want to have to give that up simply because I am Jewish.

It's not quite country, but I'll still kiss your...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Watermelon Pickles (No - This Isn't an Odd Pregnancy Craving)

Despite the fact that Labor Day has come and gone (which essentially means summer is over), watermelon seems to be popping up everywhere these days.

An article in NY Mag (ok - so it was dated late August but it took me until after Labor Day to read) included a recipe for a cold watermelon tomato soup. You know the kind of no-cook soup that's not really soup at all but just pureed fruits and vegetables but constitutes soup because its served in a beautiful porcelain bowl and garnished with chopped chives as opposed to being served in a 20 oz. styrofoam cup and garnished with a straw in which case it would be a watermelon tomato smoothie?

Then, while dining at Trattoria D'ell Arte last week in NYC, I noticed big hunks of watermelon displayed on the dessert tray naxt to the rustic blueberry tarts and towering mounds of tiramisu. Apparently, watermelon's profile has been raised from post-picnic/post-BBQ Country Girl dessert to haute NYC dessert trays.

But the most interesting form I saw watermelon take recently was watermelon pickles.

Watermelon pickles are one of those unique and totally esoteric Southern delicacies that everyone in the South is obsessed with but no one else cares about. Sort of like pimento cheese.

Essentially watermelon pickles are pieces of watermelon rind (green skin removed) that have been pickled in a sweet brine spiced with cinnamon, allspice and cloves. They are completely sweet (although the ones I tried had a little heat on the back - sort of like the kick you get when you eat spicy cinnamon candy)and reminded me of the candied apple rings that were once a prevalent staple of salad bars everywhere (seeing as I haven't been to a salad bar in a while, I can't common on their current state of prevalence).

My mother in-law, who served me my first watermelon pickle, is one of the aformentioned obessed fans and makes her own pickles since they are no longer common in grocery stores.

If you Google "watermelon pickles" there are 13,700 results returned. Many appear to be recipes and fond memories of that first watermelon pipckle, although if you had "history" to the query you get a narrower field of results. Without combing through them all (who has time) the best I can find is that Southerners pickled, canned or preserved about everything at summer's end because the availability of produce during the winter was limited (this was obviously long before we imported rasberries from Argentina in the middle of January for $5.99 for a 3-oz. container). Watermelon pickles are one of a thousand quirky Southern relishes.

Knowing what I know, my guess is that people couldn't stand to see anything go to waste - including watermelon rinds - so some clever farm wife devised this pickling process to create a sweet treat out of otherwise inedible material. Sort of similar to how the Italians have about 500 soup recipes relying on leftovers and stale bread.

Of course, I found the following bit on Schmeckfest:

Any German Russian cook will be quick to tell you, REAL watermelon pickles are made from the flesh -- not the rind. The more familar Scandanavian version of watermelon pickles are made of the bitter white rind transformed into sweet pickles. The German Russian version of watermelon pickles take the sweet red flesh of the watermelon and spark it up with sour brine, lots of dill and the surprise of red-hot peppers.

So who knows what a true, authentic watermelon pickle actually is. Pink flesh. White rind. No matter. But to make sure you get the chance to experience this truly unique condiment yourself, I've asked my mother-in-law to share her recipe and I will post it shortly.

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

Monday, September 11, 2006

The City Girl Lives


So 4 days in New York City prove that this Country Girl still has a little City Girl left in her.

From $16 glasses of wine at the Carlyle to hitting the honey pot on the 6th floor of Barney's to being followed briefly by a potially crazy homeless man in the Ramble in Central Park, my time in NYC felt...quintessential.

The trip was a whirlwind of meetings (work), family, friends, shopping (I solved my "I haven't been able to find a belt in 6 weeks" belt crisis by buying 4 in less than 60 minutes - truly a rush) and dining out - including 2 much needed Italian dinners.

For those who were wondering, I did decide to wear the Mark Eisen for Wal-Mart suit on Thursday and while we didn't dine at Nobu 57 (my flight was delayed by 2 hours and we wound up at Estiatorio Milos instead), I did get a compliment after lunch on the Prada Mary Janes and how well they went with the suit. I took it as an indirect compliment on the suit and validation (in a weird way) of my choice to go discount.
Of course, my excursion to Barney's got me back in touch with my inner power shopper and I don't see myself shopping at Wal-Mart again any time soon (well - for clothes anyways).

I'd say my only stumble the entire trip was a slight hesitation when jaywalking across Broadway - perhaps a sign that the City Girl had lost a ittle bit of her City Girl edge.

Of course, you haven't seen me cross Broadway in the pickup...

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

Monday, September 04, 2006

Shaggy Dog

No. This is not a post about the Tim Allen movie. Or the original 1959 version starring Fred MacMurray. This about my very un-Country Girl willingness to settle for a North Carolina haircut and the fact that my NY-based stylist to the stars has cancelled my last 3 appointments (4 if you count the appointment his brother cancelled). Which leaves me feeling...Shaggy.

A look at the calendar shows that Oscar last cut my hair on January 28th, 2006. At the time, I wasn't particularly interested in my hair. In fact, if anything, I was interested in growing it long so 6 months between cuts was normal. I was going for long sexy Gisele-style waves and routine maintenance was unneccessary.

Then came the move to North Carolina. So I scheduled a prophylactic cut with Oscar the day before I left figuring that a good cut could carry me - whatever my hair needs - at least a few months. That appointment was cancelled when Tom Cruise came to town and required Oscar's services as he cut a swath through NYC promoting MI:3.

By mid-June, with 6 months of growth weighing heavy on my shoulders, I did succumb and see a stylist in Charlotte. Of course - I didn't let him do much - just trim some of the dead ends. He claimed he stayed within the guidelines of my existing haircut. I wasn't sure (and to tell you the truth, there wasn't much of a haircut at that point). But the whole experience of putting myself in a stranger's hands was very anxiety-provoking. I've been through enough stylists and suffered enough bad haircuts to be on my guard when it comes to making changes. Besides, it didn't really matter how he cut my hair because the haircut was sort of lost on me as the day I got it, I came home to the first of 2 dead goats and a basement full of water.

None of this concerned me as I knew that semi-frequent trips to NY would get me back in Oscar's chair eventually.

A trip planned for mid-August allowed me to schedule a much-needed appointment with Oscar. Although I never made the trip, that appointment was cancelled as well (I don't know why) and in my mind, the cancellation still counts.

I had an appointment scheduled for next weekend, but that appointment has been cancelled because Oscar decided to extend his summer vacation for 2 weeks. I am beginning to feel partcularly frustrated because in my role as Director of Marketing for a hedge fund, I feel like I need a slightly more professional style than the mop of curls currently sprouting forth from my scalp.

I am having flashes to Melanie Griffith in Working Girl: You want to be taken seriously, you need serious hair. Well dear reader, at this stage, I am in serious need of serious hair.

I went so far as to schedule an appointment for next weekend with Oscar's brother Luca - whom I intrinisically trust even though he has never cut my hair and he once burned me with a blow dryer (this was over 10 years ago and he was new so I don't hold a grudge). That appointment was cancelled as well. Who knows why. But that makes 4.

Is this a sign? Is God trying to tell me to get over it and find a stylist in North Carolina? Perhaps. But I have been a faithful client of Oscar for 14 years - long before he had an eponymnous Madison Avenue salon and the unofficial title of hair designer for MI:3 - and it's hard to walk away from such a long-time relationship.

Besides - has God had a good look at the hair down here? The women in the city have stick straight hair that takes no talent to style - just some bleach and a blow dryer.

In Lincolnton, we seem to be stuck in a time warp when it comes to hair styles. Lots of feathers, bangs and tight perms. It's as if we're a follicly challenged town who missed the boat on hair style evolution.

Where does this leave me? Still shaggy and eagerly awaiting my September 30th appointment with Oscar as much as a small child looks forward to Christmas. Of course, my biggest fear is that Suri Cruise will be ready for her first hair cut by then and that Oscar will be called to LA to handle the honor. But I am trying to stay positive.

In the mean time, I am improving my French twist technique daily and if all else fails, there's always the woman who advertises hair styling in the little trailer down the road.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...
ADDENDUM: Signs of the Apocalypse (or Just a Really Great Bargain?)

It should be noted that as soon as I finished my previous post on Saturday morning, I got right into the pick up and drove to Wal-Mart. I got my breakfast bars. My paper towels. I picked up some hand soap for the kitchen. And some laundry detergent. And then I stood in the women's apparel section for a good ten minutes eyeing the Mark Eisen suit.

I finally caved and tried it on - in both the light lavendar and the dark lavendar. There were different size skirts to contend with and the fact that I was wearing an aqua colored t-shirt (which did not match at all). Stiil, t-shirt aside, I must have known I was going to try the outfit on because I had my 2-tone purple Prada Mary Janes (which I picked up at Century 21 years ago and which I never would have purchased had they not been Prada - further proof that I am somewhat of a label whore)in my bag.

In the end. I decided to make the purchase (which I would note to my darling husband was most definitely NOT an impulse buy).

And while when you buy a Karoo sweater dress at Neiman's I am sure they wrap it in tissue or hang it in a garment bag, the woman who checked me out at Wal-Mart did her best to simply fold the suit neatly and slide it into a plastic shopping bag.

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

ps The outfit is still tags on, hanging in my closet, waiting for further evaluation and consideration...

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Signs of the Apocalypse (or Just a Really Great Bargain?)

I nearly bought my first outfit at Wal-Mart last Saturday. (Jessica - take a moment to breathe love). I didn't go into the local Wal-Mart with the intention of buying a suit. I went with the intention of buying a cheapie belt to wear with my totally expensive and completely gorgeous Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent bat-sleeved, aubergine colored, needs to be belted at the waist 80's style sweater that I picked up in Chapel Hill the other weekend (so NOT country girl).

Why Wal-Mart? well, my stylist at Uniquities (one Dr. Diva) had told me I did not need to spend hundreds of dollars on these here today, gone in 3 months large belts reminiscent of Working Girl and Wall Street. Affordable and passable styles could be found at Target. Well - we don't have a Target. So, I figured I'd give Wal-Mart a try.

The belt selection turned out to be pitiful, but I did spot an adorable dark lavender and white tweed suit with a fitted jacket and a-line skirt.





As it turned out, I had seen the jacket in a recent advertisement (Lucky? In Style?) for the new George ME line at Wal-Mart.

According to the press release from Wal-Mart:

"Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) announced today that award-winning sportswear designer Mark Eisen will design an encapsulated sportswear collection to complement the highly successful GEORGE(TM) ladies assortment. Named GEORGE ME (em-ee) by Mark Eisen, the collection will feature tops, bottoms, jackets, and knits, available in misses and plus sizes. The collection will make its debut at Wal-Mart stores nationally and online at Walmart.com (http://www.walmart.com/ ) in mid August for Fall 2006.

Launched 16 years ago in the United Kingdom, GEORGE brand apparel offers quality, style and value for the whole family and has enjoyed strong growth in the UK at Wal-Mart's ASDA subsidiary. The brand's growth has been fueled by design credibility at amazing prices, understanding the customer, and regular infusions of fresh and interesting new looks. With this exciting new collection in the U.S. market, Wal-Mart now aims to enhance the brand's appeal to U.S. customers with pieces featuring Eisen's all-American design aesthetic.

"The GEORGE line represents fashion for value around the world," said Claire Watts, executive vice president of product development, apparel and home merchandising for the Wal-Mart Stores Division. "GEORGE ME will be especially appealing to the value-driven shopper who wants versatile pieces that stand the test of time.""

As for Mark Eisen, I remember him. Really I do. He was like a Michael Kors - sort of - except Michael Kors now has a cult following of Park Avenue and Palm Beach socialites while Mark Eisen...is designing for Wal-Mart. Of course, prior to Wal-Mart, he had his eponymlus line in the 1980s and 1990s, Urchin (do you all remember those darling sweaters?), a stint overseeing design at Ann Taylor and now has a luxe line of cashmere, Karoo, available at such luxury outlets as Bergdorf's and Saks Fifth Avenue.

But back to the suit. I tried the blazer on over my t-shirt. I fingered the skirt. I tried to envision myself actually wearing the whole ensemble to lunch at Nobu 57 next week with the Bank of America Cap intro team. Would they compliment me on an adorable fall suit selection? Would they snicker behind my back at the hick from North Carolina in the ill-fitting suit? If they did compliment me - go so far as to say "Where'd you get that?" could I answer honestly? Could I say "Oh - it's Mark Eisen for Wal-Mart" the same way I say "Oh - it's Isaac Mizrahi for Target" when people ask me about the adorable array of summer dresses I have by him.

Mark Eisen simply does not have the cachet that Isaac does (perhaps you need cachet to design for Tar-jet).

Would I be getting in on an early trend? Could I expect Wal-Mart to annnounce a roster of famed (and occasionally failed) designers contributing to everything from apparel to mops - similar to Target? Would there be the Michael Graves of Wal-Mart? The Swell of Wal-Mart? The Shabby-Chic of Wal-Mart? Is Mark Eisen Wal-Mart's answer to Isaac?

But more importantly - does any of this really matter?

Would I buy the suit if it didn't have the Mark Eisen label on it? Probably not. But I am still considering it. And seeing as this is our local Wal-Mart, I don't think they'll run out of a size 6 any time soon.

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