Tearing Down Fences (not metaphorical)

I think if I had a time traveling machine, the first place I’d travel is back in time to figure out how my back yard ended up the way it did. Forget time travel to the Elizabethan era, Biblical times, or the Kennedy assassination. I want to know: Did someone use my shed as a garage? Did they use part of it as a chicken coop? What’s the story with that hole in the middle of its wall?

These are questions for the ages. Working in my backyard often feels like a (really, really boring) archeological dig. My latest project is taking down a chain link fence that is up against a wooden fence that runs the length of my property. It’s been there for decades and inexplicably has a gate leading into the neighbor’s yard.

IMG_2053

It never really bothered me because it was covered by trees and vines and you don’t really see it that much with the wooden fence. But this summer I decided I was finished with those vines and the fence. Mostly because some of the vines are poison ivy and the small animal who sleeps with me rubs against them on romps through the yard (see the threat below).

IMG_1880

Here’s a fun fact: The city of Charlotte won’t collect chain link fence in their bulk waste disposal service. Personally, I feel I’m paying way too much in taxes for that not to be included, but that’s a blog for a different day.

So, after some extensive Googling, I found a scrap metal yard just north of town. I went there on a Saturday morning, when it opened at 8:30, and thus began a journey into a world I didn’t know existed.

I ended up having to go to three scrap yards. Turns out no one likes chain link fence. All of them were packed with people before 9 a.m., driving their cars onto massive scales and receiving money for their scrap metal. The scrap yards themselves were crazy places—wide open red dirt landscapes just outside of town filled with twisted pieces of metal. At the first one I felt like I was driving into some African military base (in large part because the man who came to greet me was Kenyan and wearing full camo and aviator glasses).

IMG_2102

When I finally found a place to drop the metal, I was simply told “Just drop it by that rusted out refrigerator.” Sure. That’s usually where I put things.

I’ll have to return to the scrap yards a few more times as I finish up this yard project, and I’m thrilled about it. I love discovering entire subcultures I know nothing about. Life can be feeling a little boring and then all of the sudden you find yourself navigating rusted out refrigerators and the cost of galvanized steel. I take adventures where I can get them.

Weekend Breaking & Entering

The weather this weekend was gorgeous, so I spent most of it outside and near the water—enjoying a cookout in a quarry on Saturday night and a kayak ride down the Catawba on Sunday.

But, as one does on weekends when they’re old, I also had a bunch of chores—including hanging a painting in one of my new offices. This particular office is in a kind of random location north of town surrounded by warehouses and distribution centers. It doesn’t feel like the safest place to go alone, but I also don’t want to be the annoying person carting in stuff and banging on walls on the weekday. So, off I went on Saturday morning, painting in hand.

I made it in past the barbed wire fence, walked the 200 yards or so from the parking lot to the entrance, swiped my card, opened the door, and promptly heard the shrill beeping of an alarm about to go off.

Somehow, in the eight billion questions I’ve been asking everyone at my new job lately, it had never occurred to me to ask if we had an alarm.

Lest you wonder if I kept my cool and reacted like a normal human being in this situation, let me assure you I did not. I sprinted through the building in the dark to my office with the painting, hammer, and nails and dropped them in the middle of the hall. I don’t know why. Then I ran back to the alarm, where I noticed a note to call the office’s director if you somehow accidentally set off the alarm.

So, I sprinted out of the building and back to my car to get my phone to text him. He kindly told me that he’d let the alarm company know not to dispatch the police and then gave me a code to disarm the alarm.

Of course, in my pure panic (I seriously envisioned a SWAT team entering the building and catching me in the act of hanging my painting), I’d dropped by key card with the hammer and nails. I couldn’t get back into the building.

So, as the alarm wailed, I called the director and started the call with “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but…” Because he’s a nice human, he assured me that it was ok and he took care of it. So much for all my good first impressions.

I used to imagine that I’d reach an age and stage when I wouldn’t have to start sentences with “You’re going to think I’m crazy.” But I’m starting to think that’s just not in the cards for me. Oh well. Saturday was just a little more thrilling than I’d anticipated.

 

 

 

Work Space

IMG_0729

I recently started a new job, which has been fun. My new job, as I see it, is to help a talented team of people make beautiful publications and presentations that tell the story of great food and the impressive people behind it. That we happen to be telling pretty stories about food for the largest food service company in the world is just the icing on the cake. (I love when metaphors match up like that, don’t you?)

Anyway, my job came with two offices. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to simultaneously start a new job and decorate two new offices, but it’s kinda hard. I feel really proud of this wall though. It serves three purposes: 1) Inspire creative design. I need that. 2) Really cheap decor. I needed that too. 3) Make me hungry All. Day. Long. I did not need that.

Lake Martin Love

IMG_0601

My grandfather grew up in a tiny mill town in Alabama near Lake Martin. When the 44,000-acre lake was created in the 1920s, it was the largest man-made body of water in the world—just up the road from his home. And so his family built a small cabin on the quiet lake that they’d visit on weekends long before that was something people did.

The lake—and the cabin—have come a long way. Today, my grandmother (my grandfather passed away a few years ago) has created what I think of as one of the most relaxing places on earth out on their point. Boats with thousands of summer visitors buzz around the popular lake all summer, but her little slice of it feels perfectly secluded.

I’ve visited every summer since I was a kid—I was there last weekend—and it’s one of my favorite places to spend a few days by the water. If you’re considering a trip (which you should), here are some spots I’d recommend on your visit.

IMG_0623

The Landing at Parker Creek: This is a newer addition to the lake, but the laid back restaurant has become a fast favorite. It’s easiest accessed by boat and features a swimming area, live music, games, and a variety of spots for dining and drinking. Play a game of corn hole or ring toss before pulling up a stool at the outdoor bar and cooling down with one of the creamy famed Bushwacker cocktails.

5206f2d4a631e.image

Chimney Rock: If you’re looking for the party on a summer Saturday afternoon, this is the place. Hundreds of boats line up, often tying themselves together and turning up the music, near this spray paint covered rock where (slightly crazy) people launch themselves from various heights. It’s not remotely safe, but it’s a ton of fun.

FullSizeRender

Peanut Point: This place has been around for decades, but I only discovered it a few years ago (it’s a big lake). On a sandy pine-shaded point a local couple boils and sells thousands of peanuts all summer long. Snag one of the cajun-flavored bags if you can.

header-catherines

Catherine’s: I’m a sucker for an artisanal market and this one is pretty charming. In addition to rows of gourmet groceries, the European-style market features an airy cafe, bakery, wine tastings, and mouth-watering cheese selection.

IMG_3666

The AMP: I got lucky because this gorgeous open-air amphitheater with panoramic views of the lake is within walking distance of my grandmother’s home. But regardless of where on the lake you’re coming from, this grassy hillside is a great destination for its summer concerts and events.

Church-in-the-Pines

Church In The Pines: I don’t usually include churches as part of travel destinations, but I really love this church. Tucked into the woods and facing the lake, the huge open-air space is at once simple and stunningly beautiful. They have guest preachers and musicians all summer long, and its a great spot to spend a peaceful Sunday morning.

 

Summer Salad

IMG_0497

I think late summer may be my favorite time for Farmers Markets in North Carolina—mostly because the season’s sweetest tomatoes have arrived. And I like to think of tomatoes as an excellent excuse to eat mozzarella cheese. (I’ve heard that it’s frowned upon to just serve yourself a plate of fresh mozzarella. Just to be clear, this would not be frowned upon by me.)

Anyway, over the weekend I created this salad using a few of those tomatoes, some fresh locally-made mozzarella, and an olive oil I picked up in Italy. It was the greatest caprese salad I’ve ever made. So, since I’ve created my greatest, I feel confident sharing some tips for your creation.

IMG_0438

  1. Eat local. Get as many of your ingredients—tomatoes, cheese, basil—as possible from local farmers and artisans.
  2. Except for the olive oil and salt. Olive oils that you’re not cooking with should come from Italy. Check the bottle. You want olives that are picked and press in Italy. You’ll taste the difference. Trust me. It will actually taste like—crazy as this sounds—olives. As for salt, I’m a salt snob. My favorite easy-to-obtain brand though is Real Salt.
  3. Pick and tear your basil just before you serve. It’s the most fragrant in that moment.IMG_0024
  4. Use different colored tomatoes. This is mostly for presentation purposes, but also adds a nice mix of flavors.
  5. Serve with crusty bread and pour your olive oil liberally enough that you’ll have lots to sop up.

Eat up and enjoy!

Henry Ford24X36Here’s a fun fact: This is likely a made-up quote. While it’s widely credited to Henry Ford, basically all historical research indicates he probably didn’t say it. But I love the idea behind it so much—fulfilling a need/desire that people didn’t even know they had, in a way better than they could have dreamed—that I ordered this poster of it to hang in my new office.

Somewhere, my journalism school ethics professor just died a little. But I’m pretty excited about my new wall art.

 

 

Lavender Lemonade

Lavender-Field-800X2752.jpg
Often, for me, the enjoyment of cooking meals and creating drinks comes in the process rather than the final product. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy more than my fair share of the final product.) But there’s something really soothing to me about spending a afternoon puttering around my kitchen. I like to do it with music playing and the back door open, with dogs wandering in and out.
And I especially like creating food that smells good. I know this is weird, but I don’t enjoy things like roasting cauliflower or searing fish as much because even if they taste amazing, the smell doesn’t fit with my pleasant cooking experience. (By the way, totally know that I’m crazy.)
So, it should come as no surprise, that I’ve become obsessed with making lavender simple syrup for cocktails. The fragrance of the boiling lavender makes my entire home smell like a field in Provence. Then, the final product gives cocktails a fresh and floral flavor that’s perfect for cool summer drinks. Want to try it for yourself? Here’s how:
images-1.jpg

Boil one cup of water, half a cup of sugar, and two tablespoons of dried lavender buds for a few minutes. Then, let it steep for about half an hour. Finally, drain the lavender from the water. I pour it through a paper towel. You lose some that way, but it’s the only sure way I’ve found not to have any lavender particles in the syrup.

IMG_0373.JPG
Next (and most important) step: Cocktail. My favorite is an easy mix of 2/3s lemonade, 1/3 vodka (Tito’s), and a splash of the lavender simple syrup. Chill and serve in martini glass—garnishing it with a lemon or a sprig of lavender. (This mix works well pre-mixed in a pitcher for groups.)