Sunday, July 29, 2007

Joys of Small Town Life

So last week, Marty & I were at the store and we picked up some ground chicken for tacos.

"Ground chicken," said the check out girl at Bi-Lo. "What's that taste like?"

I had to bite my tongue from saying: "Well - it tastes kind of like chicken."

Seriously in this day and age of everything from ground turkey to ground bison to ground tuna - ground chicken seemed to be a phenomenon.

It reminded me of an encounter Marty and I had last summer when we took his grandmother to lunch at Fatz.

Marty ordered a club soda with lime to drink.

"I've never seen anyone order that before," our waitress said. "What's it taste like?"

Once again, I had to bite my tongue.

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

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Weekend in the Mountains

So we had the most delightful weekend in Hendersonville this weekend.

We headed out on Friday evening - a little later than we had planned but we arrived at the Melange Inn & Gardens just in time for dinner.

Melange is a B&B and while they don't have a full service restaurant, they do offer a romantic, candlelit dinner for 2. And the good news is you don't have to be a guest to eat there.

Anyways - we arrived, a bit frazzled and travel weary, and after dropping our bags off in our room, we were escorted out into the Mediterranean Courtyard where a beautiful table for 2, set with an exquisite arrangement of china and linens, awaited. Candles and sconces offered a gentle light as the sun faded. A beautiful wrought iron trellis framed the courtyard. Even the plump orange tabby lounging in the last patch of sunlight was perfect.

Melange doesn't have a liquor license so we had brought our own wine, a nice bottle of Jordan chardonnay. Owner/Properietor/Chef Extraordinaire Mehmet Ozelsel promptly had it uncorked and glasses were filled.

We had pre-selected the menu and our first course, a vegetable ravioli in a tomato-goat cheese sauce, arrived soon thereafter. It was divine. The goat cheese in the sauce was an especially nice touch.

The soup course was next. I don't know what was better: Marty's tomato bisque or my vegetable soup au pistou.

Then came our salad - a blend of leaf lettuce, cheese, grapes, berries, and cucumbers. It was accompanied by a delicious, fresh baked, crusty bread with herbed butter and a delicious spread made from sun dried tomatoes and walnuts.

Our entree, Shrimp a la Melange, combined shrimp and vegetables with a tangy tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, all baked in inidivudal clay pots. It was, as with everything else we had all evening, simply delicious.

A traditional creme brulee, the custard slightly warm, the sugar nicely crystallized, was the perfect end to a perfect meal.

Everything from the exquisite cuisine to the romantic atmosphere to the whole "we weren't really expecting this" vibe, reminded me of The Willow Creek Inn.

After dinner, we went into town and played Harry Potter Topix at Hannah Flanagans, one of our favorite Irish pubs. I scored a perfect 15,000.

We eventually made our way to Wal-Mart at around 11:45 and by 12:20 we were in the car headed back to the hotel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows firmly in hand.

Saturday, we drove out west towards Rosman, where we own some land. We did a little exploring first and took 64 straight out towards Cashiers. We didn't make it all the way there, but we did make it to Sapphire, a small town near Lake Toxoway. We stumbled up on a little store on the side of the road advertising wine, steaks and cheese. We popped in and it was a little gourmet slice of heaven. We picked up a bottle of Truchard chardonnay, some pinot grigio infused salami and a hunk of Cotswald cheese. A small bakery/cafe next doorsupplied us with a loaf of fresh baked French bread.

We planned to picnic on our property, and we eventually found our way there, despite getting a smidge lost. We were pleased to see that the road leading to our land was in much better shape than the last time we visited several years ago, and someone had even run some power. I think that someone may have been a bit surprised to find us, two strangers, having a picnic out of our trunk on the edge of his property. However, this being the South, all it took was a few friendly words to explain who we were and why we were there and all was well. Then again, this being the South, I suppose we're lucky he didn't come investigating the situation with a gun in hand...

On the way back to Hendersonville, we stopped at the Dairy Bar, a random ice cream shack on the side of 64, and had a vanilla soft serve and a mint chocolate chip shake.

Saturday night we had a quick appetizer at Flight Wood Grill & Wine Bar and then headed to the Flat Rock Playhouse for a show.

We wrapped up our weekend this morning with a trip out to the Carl Sandburg House. We skipped the guided tour and instead wandered up to the dairy barn and hung out for a while with the goats.

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

Once again, Marty said my previous post lacked a certain something.

"But did you see how long it is?" I implored.

"It's not that. It's just - well, it starts out great but then kind of skips over a lot of stuff towards the end and kind of fizzles out."

"Fizzles out? Should I add to it then?"

"No. It's fine. I'd just move on."

But I couldn't move on. Not when it seemed a topic had not gotten its proper due.

This is the problem when you post as infrequently as I do these days. So much stuff builds up and I start writing and then what is meant to be a simple post turns into more of a chapter (which is ok because we all know that I am writing a book and not a blog) and then about three quarters of the way through I do fizzle out and rush through some of the final details so I can get to that blessed last line and see my point.

So back to trivia. I guess I should expound on a couple of things. For one thing, if it wasn't clear, I am a total trivia geek. How much so? I study. That's right. I study for trivia.

It's not like I walk around with a deck of Trivial Pursuit cards in my purse or anything (although I have thought about it). But there's an NTN game on Friday nights called Topix which is a 30 minute game devoted to a single topic. The topics vary from the super specific - like a particular show/movie/celebrtiy to the very broad (upcoming Topix include "Cross-Dressing Characters," "Biblical Figures," and "Mythology.")

It started innocently with a Topix on Robert Altman. For some reason, I was on the NTN website one Friday and I happened to see that the 10pm Topix was on Robert Altman and so I went onto Wikipedia and printed out all the info they had on Robert Altman and prepared for the game by reading through everything. We got to Tradewinds that night and all the guys were there and I shouted out answers and we did pretty well as a bar. I liked the idea of being able to prepare for a specific topic and so I found myself checking the schedule to see what upcoming Topix were and if it was a topic I knew or thought I could study for, I would. Random Topix I prepped for included Hannah-Barbera and The Doors. The first one where I really knew the topic in advance was Grey's Anatomy. But despite intense preparations (including a study session with Maggie while in Chapel Hill) I failed to achieve a perfect score.

That came a few weeks later - quite by accident during Shrek Topix. It wasn't my category. It was Sumo's and he assured me Shrek was his Grey's Anatomy. Marty and I "studied" by watching both movies earlier in the week and of course, I went to the always helpful Wikipedia and read up on some of the background.

Sumo didn't even make it to the game but Marty, George and I played in his honor and at the end of 15 questions, I had my first ever perfect score. It was a thrill. However many years of playing trivia and finally a perfect score. Granted- you could argue that a perfect score in Topix is not as meaningful as a perfect score in general trivia - then again, how many of you have ever had a perfect score?

Well by this time, the beast was firmly unleased and when Harry Potter Topix rolled around in July (every Friday at 10pm for the entire month), I was on a mission. Having achieved my own personal glory, I wanted to go for a perfect bar score. Just to clarify, there are 2 levels of ranking. Individuals are ranked on their individual scores, while bars are ranked on the average score of the top 5 players. Which means if I wanted perfect bar score, either Marty and I could play 5 boxes or we needed to round up some folks to join us.

I am going to pause here to point out that this is the point in the process where I realize I've been going on and on in so much detail that the post will likely be unwieldy if I continue at the same level. I am tempted to rush through the last bit in order to get to the end...and well, to make a long story short...

The first Friday of Harry Potter Topix, the entire Tradewinds crew came out and while they didn't know a thing about Harry Potter, they were able-fingered and punched in answers that Marty and I shouted out and well...we had 7 perfect scores which gave us a perfect bar score and made us #1 in the country. Mission accomplished.

Anyways, as all of this was unfolding (over the course of several months), we went down the parallel path with live trivia at Buffalo Wild Wings. I mean, if we hadn't bonded over these Topix sessions at Tradewinds and going for bar score, who knows if Marty and I would have asked the guys to join us at Buffalos and who knows if they would have said yes. Anyways, we did. They did. And know the rest.

For those of you who wonder what I get from this, there are several answers. One, being the ultra-competitive girl that I am, the satisfaction of victory is always sweet - whether it's at the individual or team level. Second - at least for live trivia - there are monetary prizes. We've so far won $350. Nice to know my Duke education and subscription to People are good for something.

Now, because I need something to end this "chapter" and there's nothing remotely country about what I've written (although if you think about the fact that I used to spend my Friday nights swilling $20 martinis at the Four Seasons and now I get excited about playing trivia in Lincolnton you can certainly draw some conclusions), I'll end with this.

We think Ann-Margaret is pregnant again.

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Where Everybody Knows Your Name - Part II

The long overdue sequel to an earlier post.

So - I may have misjudged Tradewinds when I wrote about it last year. What can I say - I'd only been there once.

I don't know when exactly Tradewinds became our Da Vinci but I do know why - trivia.

To backtrack for a minute, Marty and I have been playing trivia since 1999. We started out playing NTN trivia - now known as Buzztime at a random sports bar in Houston called Fumducks. With NTN, you are not only playing against the other bar patrons, but against thousands of other players nationwide. It quickly became clear that there were bars where trivia was taken seriously (Fumducks was not one of those bars) and so we quickly graduated to Catbirds, a sliver of a bar in the Montrose area where trivia ruled.

We went so often we quickly became regulars (to the point that Bronwyn, the bartender, invited us to her wedding which happened to be a clown wedding because she and her fiance were both professional clowns - but that's another story). Catbirds was tiny, and while competition was fierce, we always played for bar score (versus individual personal glory) and we frequently topped the charts. We even formed a team for Tuesday night Showdown (one of the weekly games on NTN).

When we moved back to NY, we stopped playing trivia mainly because it wasn't any place convenient (which actually surprises me. Given how many bars there are in Hoboken I am surprised not one of them offered it). But just because a girl doesn't play for 5 years, doesn't mean she doesn't love it.

Marty & I easily picked up the trivia habit again as soon as we moved down here last year. We started out playing at Buffalo Wild Wings in Hickory. We'd work together to best the local crowd - trying to prove that our respective educations and knowledge of miscellaneous facts was superior.

Then - the first night we were at Tradewinds, I swore that I noticed NTN on one of the TV screens. It wasn't a focal point for me that night - I was more interested in karaoke to be honest - but then a few weeks later I was out of town and Marty stopped by on his own. As it turned out - we'd struck gold.

Not only did Tradewinds have trivia, they had individual screens set up along the bar every 2 - 3 stools. And the food was good.

So we started going. And we went back again. And again. And again.

We got to know the bartenders - Marie and Elsa. Some of the waitresses - Lynn, Michelle and Erin. We got to know the owner Steve. The chef Chris.

We'd walk in and without asking, someone would pour us a drink. If the bar was crowded, they'd find us room. Frankly, I felt a bit like Norm.

But beyond getting to know the staff - we also got to know the regulars (which goes to show that the premise of Cheers is not that far fetched). We started out competitive - once again, me and Marty versus everyone else, determined to show our smarts. But I missed the Catbirds days. The days of bar score. And so I think I got kind of loud one night and started shouting out answers and encourgaed these fellow trivia geeks - yet strangers all the same - to do the same. At least - that's how I remember it but it's been many, many months (and a couple of drinks) ago.

Still, slowly but surely, we got to know these guys. First - by their trivia handles. Sumo. Coach K. Wabbit. T-Rock. Jason. Loc. Then by their names. John. Dave. George. Rick. Jason. Carl.

It was all casual - a random game of trivia here and there. But as with Catbirds, we eventually graduated to the next level.

This time, the catalyst was live trivia. Hosted at Buffalo Wild Wings in Hickory on Monday nights to drive business on an otherwise slow night (this was long after Monday Night Football had come to an end), Marty and I stumbled onto live trivia quite by accident. But it was fun. Different. And so we started going weekly to play. Unfortunately, the indivudals we played against on NTN banded together to form a team of 8 (called All the Kings Men) and no matter how smart we were, no matter how much we knew, it was nearly impossible for the 2 of us to best the 8 of them (the one night we tied for first, we drew and lost).

So we asked the guys from Tradewinds to join us one week. They did and our team grew from 2 to 6 to 10 to 16 at our max. Eventually cell phone numbers and emails were swapped and weekly plans were made. Even non-trivia plans. A weekend BBQ at Jody's one week. A poolside gathering at Carl's on July 4th. And of course, we started kicking ass at trivia (which went a long way to satisfy my ultra competitive streak).

Anyways, it's amazing how much can change in the course of a year and amazing what jewels you can find in a small town.

You go from being a stranger to a regular to a friend. And Tradewinds went from being just another random bar in Lincolnton to a must see stop on the J. Peterman Reality Tour when you come and visit.

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

Saturday, July 14, 2007

In Case You Were Concerned (And an Apology to Wal-Mart)

So - as it turns out, we were wrong about Wal-Mart and possibly why it was mysteriously Harry Potter free a few weeks ago. I was pleased to see when I was there this morning that our little, local, Lincolnton Wal-Mart will be selling Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at 12:01am Saturday, July 21st. Who knows if this is simply a corporate mandate with no regard for local religious proclivities or if my original theory that Wal-Mart was simply promoting the then-current summer franchises - Pirates of the Carribbean, Spider Man, Transformers - and waiting for a complete Harry Potter onslaught closer to the release date of the movie/book was right. Either way, Harry Potter's coming to Lincolnton!

And, in case you were concerned that because I drive a pick-up, listen to country music, and own livestock (and thinking about buying more) means I've gone totally country...well, have no fear. I still have my moments. Like this morning, when a giant green bug - think a grasshopper on steroids or a giant green Palmetto bug - crawled onto my windshield when I was pulling into the driveway and scared the shit out of me. It kept crawling all over the truck and I panicked and had to literally call Marty to come out of the house to rescue me because I was trapped I was so scared.

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

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

My How You've Grown

Spring saw 2 exciting additions to the Paris farm: the birth of Nugget and my first attempt at an herb garden.

Well, it's been nearly 3 months since I wrote about both of these events and I thought you'd like an update.

I'll start with the herbs since they came first.

The most important thing is that my herb garden more than doubled in size when my friend Dana, who's studying horticulture and works in a green house, brought me some more plants after I'd had my 3 plants for less than 3 weeks. She brought me dill (which she said was variegated in color), 2 types of mint and lemon thyme. She offered to bring more and made the bold suggestion of even bringing me a tomato plant. I politely declined - pretty sure that 7 herbs was more than I could handle.

For a while, everything was going well. Dana told me to clip the plants to make sure they kept creating new growths. So I snipped large and luscious leaves of the basil and watched as new shoots and baby buds appeared. I trimmed my mint plants and my rosemary and used the fresh herbs on some pork chops. Everything was great until one day my garlic chives didn't look so hot.

I added some more soil and tried to trim them down but they looked dried up and brown. I had snipped some for use in a vegetable pancake and what I snipped did not seem to be growing back.

Then came the dill. Dana swore it was two-toned - yellow and green. Mine started to look brown and green. I found myself peeling off dried, withered bunches along the bottom, even as the plant shot upwards and began to flower.

The mint was touch and go. Some green. Some yellow. It depended on the day.

Then my beautiful basil hit some trouble. At one point tall, flowering and full of new leaves, those leaves turned brown and dried up. I don't know if it was the massive heat wave, the intense humidity, the lack of sun or too much water.

Funny enough, my garlic chives, once on death's door, have started to spring back and now most of the brown is gone and the shoots I have are green - and possibly growing. It's hard to tell. And the thyme seems to be flourishing no matter what the conditions.

The truth is, I doubt all 7 plants require the same growing conditions and yet I water and treat them the same (except the rosemary which I know prefers drier conditions). What can I say, I just don't know.

But here's a look at my herb garden now. I am just hoping to make it through Labor Day.

Remember Nugget when she was born?

How cute and little she was?

Well she's now nearly 3 months old and all grown up.

Size-wise, she's nearly as big as Ann-Margaret and her horns are coming in nicely. She grazes. She frolics. She plays. She's got a bit of an independent streak.

Like all of our animals she's completely spoiled. She loves her Goat Chow (now mixed with sweet corn) as well as her animal cookies. In fact - feeding has become quite the routine. Elvis and Ann-Margaret each have their troughs, side by side on the gate, while Nugget eats straight from the bucket. All of them eat so fast because as soon as one is done, it'll move onto the other 2. So if Elvis finishes first, he'll push Ann-Margaret out of her trough which means Ann-Margaret will come over and push Nugget out of her bucket. Then whoever is feeding (usually Marty) has to dance and manouever and try to shake off the 2 older goats so the baby can finish.

We both agree this is not an effective way to do things - especially since there is a strong possibility we will add 2 more goats in the near future. Individual feedings are over and we are graduating to one long trough and letting nature take its course.

Still, all the goats are happy and healthy and we have no complaints except one.

Elvis is still horny and chasing after both mother and daughter at every seeming turn, which has left us with only one choice...

...and that is to castrate him. Sorry big fella.

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