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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

DELICIOUS SOUTHERN CUISINE AT GREENSBORO’S LUCKY 32 SOUTHERN KITCHEN

No sense moving to the South if you’re not going to feast on real Southern cooking.  Hype cultural diversity in restaurants all you want, but it’s tough to beat great Southern cooking’s range and deliciousness. The beauty and flavors of Southern cuisine reflect a culture too often overlooked.  What a shame! Have you had real Southern cooking yet?

Our quest for truly Southern food leads us to Greensboro, North Carolina and Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen, a restaurant highly ranked by visitors and hometown folk alike.  It has been on our “to try” list almost since we arrived in North Carolina a year and a half ago.

If you’ve followed Third Age Traveler, you know that we have been barbecue tasters and lovers for years, ever in search of the perfect rack of fall-off-the-bone ribs, brisket, chicken, or pork, but Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen is not a barbecue joint.  This upscale restaurant is everything a special dining experience is about: ambiance, superb, caring service, and, of course, a menu that makes choosing one of the great conundrums of life.  What could be better?

Well, maybe “better” also means that this restaurant is one of the few wholly employee-owned restaurants in the country.  Maybe “better” means visiting their website and seeing a list of local farms and events at this location or at their second location in Cary, North Carolina.  Maybe “better” means being able to get their recipes and try to emulate the deliciousness you’ll experience at this great restaurant.

Our date for Lucky 32 is Rob’s birthday, so we want something special and something new.  We know the moment we drive up to the impressive restaurant that we’ve found what we are looking for.  Lovely building nicely landscaped with patio dining as well.  From our table inside, the big picture windows reveal trees just beginning to green up, and it is hard to remember we are in the middle of a city. 


 The interior color scheme is basically black and white, but the soft lamplights are like flowers, and the windows allow for natural lighting as well.  Nothing stark about the interior; rather it was warm with tables spaced so there is no crowded feeling.  Too often,  restaurant spaces require tight seating where it’s hard to even stand up without brushing another patron’s chair; not Lucky 32. 



Our waiter is prompt, takes our orders for two martinis, and comes back quickly bringing with him a nice hunk of multi-grain bread, still soft and warm. 



The menu—wonderful and varied—making us sigh as we try to narrow down our choices.  Everything tantalizes.  Just look at the first five starter selections!  What would you choose?


We decide to share the Buttermilk Fried Green Tomatoes.  WOW.  Here’s a dish that has intrigued me since I saw Fannie Flagg’s movie, Fried Green Tomatoes.  Not something ordinarily found in New York!.  I first had them at B.Smith’s restaurant in DC’s Union Station one lovely Easter Sunday years ago.  Love at first bite.  I’ve made them myself since we moved down to North Carolina, and good as mine were, these are wholly different. 



The blue cheese sauce and bacon add a zing, and I’m not sure what went into the voodoo sauce, but it certainly put a plus on that zing.  All five tomato slices are garnished with scallions, and the presentation is lovely.  Absolutely delicious. 

The entrée selection presents no less a problem.  Everything on the menu seems wonderful.  Each entrée is accompanied by two side dishes, and even those are difficult to decide.

I choose the Local Pork Loin —three slices of seared Hickory Nut Gap pork loin served on a bed of heavenly creamed spinach and topped with crisps of shiitake bacon. As my sides, I choose mustard braised cabbage and pimento mac. 

The meat is nicely done, and the creamed spinach adds a flavor boost to the meat.  The braised cabbage, a dish I’ve never had, is superb, tangy, neither too crisp nor too soft—tastefully seasoned.  The combination is unique as are the flavors of the pimento mac.

My meal is so good I will have to fight my yearnings to repeat this selection the next time we come.  And we will be back. I want to try some of the other possibilities.

Rob orders the Cornmeal Crusted Carolina Catfish, farm raised in Ayden, NC with Creole mayonnaise.  It is served on a bed of squash and peas.  For his sides, he chooses collard greens and beans and kale greens.
Perfection on a plate.

Did I say that we cannot resist tasting each other’s selections?  Amazing.  It’s not often where there is not one bit of negativity.  I, who really am not a fan of kale, cannot even complain about that.  I really like the collard greens and the squash mixture.  We both agree, too, that the fish is done just right.  Rob’s reaction to my entrée is equally positive. 

I’d love to tell you what we have for dessert, but there is just no way we could take another bite.  Servings are ample. If you’re sorry I cannot share our reactions with you, you can imagine how sorry we are that there is just no room for dessert!

We’re planning a sightseeing day in Greensboro with our next house guests, and Lucky 32 is where we will take them for dinner.  It will be a real Taste of the South treat.





Monday, September 07, 2015

McCULLOUGH'S THE WRIGHT BROTHERS IS NO FLIGHT OF FANCY. IT'S THE REAL DEAL.

The beauty of David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers emanates from McCullough's ability to flesh out these two men, showing them as more than cardboard figures in ancient photo stills or early 1900 stereotypes in antique movies getting their airplane off the ground at Kitty Hawk and launching us into an entirely new age.  In McCullough’s book, these are real men, challenging themselves to do something no man has ever done before.  We know what happens, but traveling on their journey is quite a trip.

As usual, McCullough’s meticulous research gives us much more than an historical moment; it gives us a feeling for the period in history when men in several countries of the world knew they were on the brink of being able to finally and confidently move into another realm—the air.  The race began on the ground, but the finish line was in the air.  Wilbur and Orville Wright’s story is timeless.  And it’s fascinating reading.

McCullough doesn’t begin with their airplane.  He begins by allowing his reader to observe Wilbur and Orville, their relationship with one another and with other members of their family, their personal characteristics which seem to complement each other, their family history of the early loss of their mother, the steadfast values of their traveling Bishop father, and their extraordinary dedication to making something worthwhile of their lives.  That last quality was virtually in their DNA and led them to work tirelessly to fulfill a life-long dream to fly.  Theirs becomes a story not only of early 20th-century discovery but also a lesson for every dreamer today.  
  
No one needs to be reminded of man’s quest to fly.  Through the ages, stories abound: in Greek mythology’s Icarus, in ancient drawings, in Da Vinci’s flying machine drawings, and in numerous documented failed attempts.  Always interested in the mechanical nature of how machines work, the Wright brothers were explorers and inventors—printing and publishing their own newspaper, getting in on the bicycle craze and then becoming bicycle builders who develop and patent their own popular brand of bicycles. They continued that business to earn a living as they also worked on their airplane.

Absorbed with watching the way birds use their wings—not by flapping so much as by riding the currents of air—they left the prevalent aeronautical culture and worked on developing a wing shape that enabled them to do the same thing.  But before they even tried to build, they studied everyone who had ever made attempts at building a flying machine.  They had immense help from the Smithsonian Institution, for instance.  They also intuitively knew to keep their cards close to their chests as others around the world were attempting to fly as well.

By the time the brothers brought their machine to the primitive beaches of Kitty Hawk, they understood they were close to realizing their dream.  They returned seasonally over several years before they actually performed that first flight.  It’s difficult to imagine that even after their theories worked, the brothers still had to learn to fly—and they had no teachers.  It was a matter of getting into the air and through trial and error without killing themselves that they learned to ride the currents and soar like the birds.


Amazingly, the exciting prospect of flight did not, at first, have Americans anxiously on the edges of their seats.  The French and Germans were most enthusiastic, and, indeed, the initial financing and fame the Wright brothers gained came from Europe rather than from America.  In pursuing the important business aspect, Wilber Wright spent a great deal of time in Europe, eventually bringing over his brother and, ultimately, his sister and father.  

As fame and competition impacted their work, Wilbur remained the businessman in the flying enterprise, and Orville became the flier, recovering from a tragic flying accident where he was seriously injured and his passenger was killed.  In fact, lawsuits concerning patents as well as the business aspect of their enterprise occupied so much of Wilbur’s time that he was forced to give up flying in order to attend to business.  Orville continued to fly and break records.

Reading about these pioneers is fascinating.  Though two of the most important men of the 20th century, they never became arrogant or changed by their celebrity.  The money and fame that accompanied their work were not the goals, and those who knew them often mentioned their basic humility. 

Orville lived to a ripe old age, but Wilbur died in his mid-40s.  Their far-reaching successes came early.  

I was fascinated by the book.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and learning about these two very important men and their accomplishments as well as their bumpy road to success.  They exemplify the American dream, working tirelessly to achieve their goals and finally reaching them through their hard, dangerous, and sometimes exhausting efforts.  I just flew cross-country from Seattle, and I tried to imagine how they would react to the hustle and bustle of SEATAC or Newark airports.  I wonder what they would say if they could see their invention today as a mode of travel for even the ordinary person.  I wonder what they would have said to the men and women who took the idea of flying and sent us to the moon and beyond!

Other David McCullough books I’ve read, enjoyed, and highly recommend are Truman, John Adams, 1776, The Path Between the Seas (about the building of the Panama Canal), The Great Bridge (about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge), The Johnstown Flood, and Mornings on Horseback (about Theodore Roosevelt).  I haven’t had a moment of boredom.  I’ve enjoyed every one.  This is history that reads as a novel, revealing the people and time as well as discussing the event.  It doesn’t get much better than this.





Thursday, August 27, 2015

IT'S PEACHY KEEN AT BUTTERMILK CREEK FARM--ALAMANCE COUNTY, NC

Don't they look juicy?
Despite the organizing still to do at our new house in North Carolina, Rob and I got into the car to explore what will soon be our new surroundings.  Country roads lined with working farms are extraordinarily beautiful and relaxing, and that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

It is early August, and peaches are hanging ripe for the picking.  All around the area are peach festivals, but these festivals will have to wait until next year.  But we have to eat, don’t we?  So we head to Buttermilk Creek Farm, a family-owned business.  The farm grows and sells blackberries, blueberries, and peaches.  You’ll soon hear why knowing all three is important.

Today Rob and I are there for the peaches.  In Warwick, we also go to the orchards, and we buy our peaches from Pennings on the outskirts of the village.  The hardest part is deciding whether to go for the yellow or the white peaches.  They’re both delicious.

If you’re used to supermarket peaches, you’ve never had the almost unearthly delight of having to bend forward as you bite into a ripe peach you’ve simply twisted off the stem into your hand.  You bend in order to keep that sweet-smelling, peachy juice from running down your chin and on to your shirt.  That’s the way it is when you twist a peach from its branch and bite past the tickling fuzz into the heart of it.  You can see why it was impossible not to go peach picking when we had the chance.

Being new-comers to the area, we take Pat and Tom’s sage advice and head to Buttermilk Creek Farm, a family owned, pick your own fruit farm in Burlington, North Carolina, and conveniently near us. 

To get there, we drive past tobacco fields and farms, across bridges spanning Lake Cammack where we hope to sail and fish very soon.  We probably take the long way as we are just getting the lay of the land, and early August is so pretty.  There’s a wonderful serenity in driving country roads. I don’t think I have ever seen tobacco growing before, and on one farm, men were in the fields snipping the flowers from the leafy plants. 
These plants are tobacco.  Quite beautiful, aren't they?

Buttermilk farm grows blackberries, blueberries, and peaches, and we picked a few peaches—we haven’t moved in yet, so there is little more we can do than eat them fresh.  Just wait until next year.

It is just nice walking up and down the rows, squeezing a peach here and there until we find one that is just right.  We actually pick peaches that will sit on our counter for a day or two before being perfectly ready.  That is the advice from the man in charge whom we meet there.  

When I looked for some online information on Buttermilk Creek Farm, there was a uTube video. I believe I found the same friendly man, Steve Smith, who owns the farm and, if you watch the video, you’ll learn more about it.   Here is the link to the video:  Buttermilk Creek Farm

But we feel very welcomed here, and before we leave with the few peaches for which Steve refused payment, by the way, we did have a chat and learned a little of his impression of the people who come to pick—particularly his berries. 

He told us that it appears that transplanted Northerners go wild over the blueberries while Southerners seem to prefer the blackberries.  We guaranteed that we would be back for both.  I started making jams last year, and I think it will be wonderful.  By the way, this past season peaches were $1.50 a pound and berries were $3.75 a pound.  I think I shall be very busy.

He was so nice and friendly, just as everyone we’ve met has been.  And Pat and Tom treated us to some brandied peaches over vanilla ice cream.  Yes, my friends, we will be back.

Friday, August 21, 2015

This is the entrance to the Monastery at Glendalough, founded by St. Kevin in the 6th Century.
The main entrance wall which separated the monks from the outside world
was accessed through this double-arched gateway.
It was probably built between 900 and 1200.
Here's the amazing part--
There is no mortar to support the arches in this gateway.

Monday, August 17, 2015

GO SET A WATCHMAN -- HARPER LEE'S BEST SELLER IS DEFINITELY WORTH A READ

Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.  Hmmm.  I held back from reading any reviews or analyzes of the novel I pre-ordered and waited for with bated breath.  I had already read the various stories about this book's history, and I wanted to put that aside as much as I could just as I wanted to put To Kill a Mockingbird aside as much as I could.

But as I read Go Set a Watchman, I could not see Atticus as anyone other than Gregory Peck nor Jean Louise as anyone other than a grown-up Mary Badham.  Nor could I ignore that, at the very least, Go Set a Watchman may have been "touched up" by persons unknown from Harper Lee's original rejected draft form and that the characters I would come to love in To Kill a Mockingbird, including Tom Robinson, as well as the sub-plot of his trial, would have their seeds planted, to some degree, in this earlier book. The absence of Boo Radley was very obvious.  It wasn't until I finished reading that I looked at some of the reviews to see how others reacted not only to this book but also to the bits and pieces inserted or missing from To Kill a Mockingbird.

I did not finish Go Set a Watchman with the negative reactions I’ve read in the press and in magazines.  I thought the grace of language and the feelings of small-town Southern life that speak primarily of a past era were here, and the soft fluidity of expression that Harper Lee exhibits in a supremely more polished manner in To Kill a Mockingbird is evident here.  The tone, despite Jean Louise’s rambunctious and iconoclastic rebellion, is calm and consistent on the parts of the older Finches and troubled on Jean Louise's part.  One can see how Atticus’ approach to his daughter when she was six has not changed much now that she is 26.  Nor can one see any inconsistency in Atticus’ earlier defense of Tom Robinson or of his present defense of Calpurnia's son.  Held in higher regard than personal feelings is the law.  

While it is distressing to be reminded that the council’s feelings and even Atticus’ reasoning were so much a part of the pre-1960s South (and unfortunately even later), those feelings were real and to deny them is to re-write history.  I abhor re-writing history.  But this novel, if printed in its own time, would have died a natural death and gone the way of other dated and/or unacceptable works.

Go Set a Watchman is a rite of passage novel, and it's interesting because our protagonist is already 26 years old, far older than usual. She has to move out of the old ways and into the new, and she has to experience how different life is in a place like New York before she can make that move.  When she left Maycomb, she was searching for something she could not identify.  This trip home helps her move closer to the road she will follow in life.  It's not her Daddy's world anymore even if he doesn't know it yet.  That's a universal truth most adults have a tough time accepting, and Atticus is no exception.

I wonder where Harper Lee’s real feelings lie in these matters.  She said she wanted to write a "race book." There's no question that she sides with Jean Louise.  Was she trying to make that transition from the world in which she grew up into the new world just being born when she wrote this book?  Had this book been published in its time, I wonder if To Kill a Mockingbird would have followed.  I doubt it.  But if it had, would it have ever gotten to the pinnacle of American Classics?  I doubt that too, for we would never have forgiven the older Atticus Finch who is so much a part of the old order.  Jean Louise revolts against Atticus’ ideas, but she comes to understand them.  She is just past them.  She is actually asked to come back to Maycomb and exert some positive influence on these too-long-held ideas.

What is interesting about Jean Louise is that even as she is repelled by the people she loves, she sees how she accepted many of the same behaviors.  When she visits Calpurnia and asks if Calpurnia hated the family she faithfully served, Jean Louise awakens to the stark, hard realization of how different and how difficult their worlds were.  But it is not as if she had never been to Calpurnia's home or known Calpurnia's family.  She was brought up blinded to the injustices of the times.

Jean Louise realizes that accepting the way she is raised is the basis of racism and other types of prejudice.  Attitudes and behaviors that appear to be the natural scheme of things are never questioned, but they are subtly taught and passed down generation after generation.  Change is right, but change is a huge challenge.  When Jean Louise leaves Maycomb, she still has a long way to go.  But she is willing--and anxious--to work at it.  There's the key to moving in the right direction--it takes conscious work and effort.  It can be achieved.

The character of Henry becomes important in light of Jean Louise's awakening.  She already revolted against some of the hometown characteristics, and she continues to take stronger and stronger stances.  Henry, however, comes from a different background, will remain in Maycomb, and despite his feelings that some of what he sees is wrong, he is concerned with his own acceptance, and so he approaches problems from an entirely different standpoint.  Isn't that the way the world works?  In Jean Louise's case, it is Uncle Jack who lectures her about the way their world works and how she fits into that world--or doesn't.  I found it all interesting and with a great deal of truth.  Sometimes the truth hurts, as Jean Louise discovers.

The Boo Radley sub-plot of To Kill a Mockingbird is not hinted at in Go Set a Watchman.  What that does to To Kill a Mockingbird is broaden the definitions and demonstrate another type of prejudice.  It fills out this second book and adds to its richness. It reminds me that Go Set a Watchman is a rejected first draft.

I liked the title of this novel as well.

According to the website Bible Hub, the title is from Isaiah 21:6 about the prophecy concerning the ruin of Babylon. Jean Louise symbolizes that watchman, and she reports what she sees in the land that must change.  As in the Bible, the event is not to happen immediately, but will in due time.

In the novel itself, it is suggested that the watchman is one's conscience.  We know right from wrong, and we should be able to choose right for ourselves as we grow up and begin to individually evaluate the world around us.  We need a watchman to alert us to dangers.

No matter how one approaches Go Set a Watchman, first reactions will be visceral.  This novel, still a monumental best seller, hits us with a flurry of punches that knock the wind out of us because Atticus Finch is not the man we thought him to be--as Uncle Jack tells Jean Louise--or because the South was just beginning to be forced to change in many ways after WWII and was still filled with seething animosity.   We don't want to hear that.

But I recommend this book.  I see the seeds of Harper Lee's greatness. I'd like to hear your reactions to it in the comments section.