Northward Bound

One of my favorite ways to spend a sunny Saturday is exploring the Lake Norman area north of Charlotte. During the week, traffic makes this area miserable. Seriously, nothing is worth the agony of the parking lot that I-77 becomes at 5 pm. But on Saturdays it’s easy-breezy—and actually a pretty drive as far as interstates go.

On last Saturday’s perfect pseudo-spring afternoon I went with friends up to Davidson to meander around before dinner at Kindred, celebrating my friend Jenn’s birthday. Wandering in and out of shops on its charming Main Street reminded me how much I enjoy this area. So, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite spots in case anyone else was inspired to spend their weekend hours leaving the city for some of its cutest ‘burbs:


Check out the vineyards. Daveste (above) is at the northern most point of the lake in Troutman. It’s a simple, pretty vineyard with an airy tasting room and outdoor seating overlooking a pond. There are lots of vineyards farther north on 77, but this is a good one for a taste of the local grapes.


For a playful twist, make a trip to Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville. You feed animals like giraffes and deer from your hand. It’s kind of a weird experience, but it’s also pretty fun. (Warning: You will find bits of animal feed in your car for weeks after this trip. Turns out, wild animals are not neat eaters.)


During the warmer months, stop at Carrigan Farms in Mooresville for a swim. It’s a pick-your-own farm for some seasonal crops and offers fun hayrides in the fall, but the coolest thing at this farm is its rock-quarry-turned-swimming-hole where you park in a field and take a path through the woods to this hidden gem.


If you’re looking for a casual bite, go to Alino Pizzeria in Mooresville. I really can’t stress enough how much I love this place. It’s the best pizza restaurant I’ve ever been to. Ever. And it’s housed in a cool old mill. It’s relaxed and casual while also being chic. I would eat there every day if I lived in Mooresville. Every. Freaking. Day.

I don’t really feel like I need to express how much you need to eat at Kindred if you haven’t yet. I’ll let all the national accolades and James Beard nominations do the talking for me. But seriously, go there. And order the fried oysters and the birthday cake dessert. I realize that’s a weird combo, but both those things are just so good.

If you have extra time, check out the Davidson Farmers Market on a Saturday morning. There’s a woman there who sells Mason jars filled with fresh goat cheese and tapenade. Buy them. And then grab a fresh loaf of bread at Millstone Bakehouse to smear that on. Unfortunately, there are no photographic examples of this due to being distracted by eating it. So, you’re just going to have to trust me on that one.



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This fall I wrote a book. It’s called “Secret Charlotte: A guide to the weird, wonderful, and obscure,” and it’s part of a series of similar books in other cities. The reasons I chose to write this aren’t all that romantic. My publisher from a previous book called and asked if I’d be up for writing it. I said yes because I’m incapable of saying no.

Around October I started hating myself. Books aren’t easy to write in general and this one was especially hard because it required hours (and hours and hours) of research. It’s filled with a mix of old and new quirky stories about Charlotte.

At some point in my writing though something completely unexpected happened: I became obsessed with Charlotte’s past. Charlotte, a town I’ve covered for years, is often accused of destroying its past and covering it up with something shiny. Before, I’d been mildly disturbed by this in the “I wish we hadn’t torn down those old buildings because it’d be nice to have a little more character in that yuppie neighborhood” kind of way.

But when you’ve spent hours reading about the people who shaped a city before you were ever even born, something changes. Now, I drive down streets imagining what they looked like before. When I see old buildings, I wonder who lived there. I notice street names I’ve never considered and wonder who they’re named after—and who named them, and who lived on them, and why they seemingly inexplicably curve at certain points.

I’ve long since turned in the manuscript. But I can’t get enough. This photo was one of my favorites that I dug up. (I think it was from the Observer, but can’t remember.) Every time I look at it, it reminds me of It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s Christmas in 1940, right around when parts of the famed movie took place.

The shot is standing on North Tryon Street at 6th Street looking south into Uptown Charlotte. The Mayfair that’s on the right is now The Dunhill. And Carolina Theater there on the left is now being restored. Learning about the city’s history has made me think about other things when I see this too:

Things like, all those neon signs were so prevalent then that the city thought they were cluttering the streets and declared they needed to be taken down. Ratcliffe’s Flowers was owned by a stubborn war veteran who refused. Today, his former store’s building has been moved up the block, but his sign was declared a historic landmark and still hangs on The Green on South Tryon.

And really even this is just history layered on history. Before the Mayfair Manor (now Dunhill) was built, Tryon Street Methodist Episcopal Church stood on this property. The church though had only had the property since the 1860s. Before that it was owned by a man named Joel Huggins, a slave holder who moved to Texas with two other families around the time he sold the property to the church. (He posted an advertisement in a local newspaper looking for me to help him move his family’s slaves across the country.) Huggins would go on to fight for the Confederacy and survive the war, but die a few years later in 1869.

These are the kinds of rabbit holes I’ve been going down all fall. And now, when I go to dinner at the Dunhill’s Asbury restaurant (named for the original hotel’s architect), I can’t help but think about the hotel’s glory days as the city’s best, and the church there before it, and Huggins before that. (I also can’t help but talk about all this. I’ve become super annoying to hang out with.)

Anyway, I’d write more, but in writing this I’ve become curious about the other two families who moved to Texas with Huggins. So, I’m off to more digging.




Amusement Park Ruins


I spent the weekend exploring. I’ve been working on a book (my publisher would want me to insert here that it’s called “Secret Charlotte” and it’ll be out in Spring 2017), and it’s taken me to the most unexpected places.

The book features 95 different “secret” things about Charlotte from alleged ghosts to unusual foods. And while they’ve all been fun to research, I’ve definitely had my favorites. One of those is Lakewood Park.

This was an amusement park similar to something like a Coney Island that was on Charlotte’s west side from 1910 to 1930. It had a lake with row boats, a pool, a zoo, a roller coaster, a carousel, and, most famously, a pavilion known for its dances. During WWI there was a large Army camp in Charlotte and Lakewood was a favorite spot for soldiers.Then, the Depression hit and the park’s popularity quickly faded. Shortly after that, a storm caused the lake’s dam to break and lake disappeared.
Yesterday, I drove to the area where there hasn’t been a park in almost a century. The streets are still named things like Parkview and Lakewood, but where there was once a lake is now a power station. And where there was once a bandstand and a carousel and a bathhouse, now there are warehouses. But the old trolley tracks that brought families from uptown Charlotte to the park are still there. They’re long since grown over and seem to lead to nowhere, but they’re there.
I’m dying to explore to see if there are any remnants of the past, but this didn’t feel like a particularly safe choice. (There used to be a tunnel from the lake to the amusement park that went beneath the tracks. Surely, there’s still some sign of it?) So, I went home and played on Google Earth. No luck. So, I came in to work this morning and begged my team to accompany me (as bodyguards) to the tracks. They’ve agreed.
So, stay tuned. (For either news that I’ve been murdered or photos of our finds.)

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Last night I went to Verse & Vino, the annual fundraising dinner for Charlotte’s library system. I go to a lot of these kinds of things with my job, but this one is definitely one of my favorites. Its highlights are buying books, meeting their authors, and drinking wine. If they could somehow throw puppies into this mix, this would actually my fantasy party.

Last year’s event convinced me to read ALL of Karin Slaughter’s books, two excellent novels by Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Balm and Wench), and a disturbing book by Chris Bohjalian called The Guest Room.

Last night, Rumaan Alam spoke briefly about his debut novel, Rich and Pretty, but the real power of his speech was in telling the crowd to get it together with this HB2 stuff in North Carolina. Meanwhile, Tom Rinaldi made me literally cry in his description of personally reading his book, The Red Bandanna, to the parents of its subject, Welles Crowther, who died after saving lives on 9/11.

My favorite part of last night though was hearing these authors describe their own experiences with the library. Do you remember going to the library as a child? I do. I can vividly remember being a small child and carrying large stacks of books up to a counter as high as I was to check out. I remember the thrill of getting my first library card.

These days I download most of my books from an app that never requires me to leave my bed, much less step inside a library. But I love that they exist. And last night convinced me that it might be time to go spend an afternoon in one.



Star Struck


I had a cool day yesterday. In the morning I gathered around a table in a sunny room filled with fashion writers to speak with famed designer Lela Rose (above). She was open and down-to-earth and charming. She’s also gorgeous and effortlessly stylish. So, totally intimidating.

Then, later in the day, part of the team I work with was sponsoring a political forum for the upcoming election so I got to spend some time backstage pre-talk. Lara Trump was there to represent her father-in-law and it was fascinating to see her and the GOP machine in action. But way more fun was having the chance to meet Melissa Joan Hart (as in Sabrina and Clarissa), who was there to speak for the Libertarian party.

She introduced herself to me by saying “Did I just see you at Panera?” I said no, wishing it had been true so MJ and I could bond over our shared love of soups in sourdough bread bowls. She was incredibly nice. Later, I literally interrupted her from studying the crisis in Syria to take a photo with me and she agreed.


Some day, these will be fun stories to tell the grandkids. But the truth is, these weren’t my favorite parts of the day. The best parts of my day were when I got to go watch a talented friend teach a SkillPop class. Or when I got to Facetime with a close friend who lives too far away in Texas and can inevitably make me laugh. Or when I got to call my little brother to wish him a happy birthday.

This probably sounds trite. But it’s true. And I forget it a lot, so I’m writing it to remind myself too. The other stuff is fun to post on social media and it’s a great perk of a job I love. But that’s not the stuff that ultimately makes anyone happy. It did make for a pretty cool Wednesday though.

Sweet Potato Simple Syrup


Last night I had this aptly named “Dirt Candy” cocktail at Charlotte’s The Asbury restaurant. It was made with Cardinal Barrel Rested Gin, orange and cardamom, and sweet potato simple syrup. And was just as amazing as all that sounds.

After drinking it, I had a brilliant idea (as is usually the post-cocktail case): Why not use this magical sweet potato simple syrup in place of regular simple syrup in my favorite drink, an Old Fashioned? This version would have the extra-autumnal flavors of sweet potato with all my favorite things (bourbon and cherries).

So, now I have big plans. Sound good to you too? Here’s the recipe for sweet potato simple syrup*:

Roast a medium-sized sweet potato in the over until soft. Place 1/2 cup of it in a saucepan with one cup of water and 3/4 cup of sugar. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring as sugar dissolves. Let the syrup cool before pureeing it and straining through fine mesh. Refrigerate and then drink up.

*Alternate, easier plan: Go to The Asbury and order this drink.

Top Three TED Talks

Today I’m going to TEDx Charlotte and I am EXCITED. This will be my fourth year going—I have a serious obsession with TED talks.  I often watch them in the morning as I prepare for the day. I listen to them in my car. I talk about them a lot. And I’ve forced my team at work to watch them in more than one meeting.

Anyway, in honor of one of my favorite annual days, I’ve put links to my three favorites. (I’m not including the Steve Jobs commencement speech at Stanford, which they have on their site as a talk. But seriously, if you haven’t watched that speech yet, what are you even doing?)

(1) “The happy secret to better work”is my all-time favorite. It’s hilarious, fast-moving, and has inspired me all 57 times I’ve watched it. It’s helped me to be more positive at work, more happy in life, and better at encouraging others. Sold yet?


(2) “Try something new for 30 days” is one that I reference all the time. There’s something about the idea that change isn’t as overwhelming as we make it—we can change so much in 30 days—that I love. This is a cool and inspiring talk, and it’s only 3 and a half minutes. Take the time and watch it.


(3) The reasons I like “The price of shame” are a little different. Monica Lewinsky gives this talk, and if you’re like me, you’ve spent at least a few moments of your life judging this woman. Her talk is on public shaming and the online culture of humiliation—something with which she’s all too familiar. It’s an incredible, honest talk, and reminds me of the power of kindness in all spaces.



The Pumpkin Pup

Today on the podcast I co-host we taped a Halloween themed episode. (Full shameless plug: It was hilarious and one of my favorite episodes yet. Listen here when it comes out next week.) dmxbunnysf45hqe8smsysdglo1_1280

It put me in the mood for Halloween and inspired me to share my favorite Halloween pic ever—Rosie in the pumpkin patch. If there were audio with this photo it would be excessive barking. And if there were a follow up story, it would include the fact that this pumpkin patch now has large signs everywhere that say “No Dogs on the Pumpkins.” They put them there the day after this photo took place in 2008 and they’ve been up ever since. Rosie: Changing history one obnoxious bark at a time.


Making Pizza with Wolfgang


Yesterday I got to make—and eat—pizza with Wolfgang Puck. So, you know, better than my typical Tuesday. He was hosting a media event at his Charlotte restaurant, WP Kitchen + Bar and somehow I got lucky enough to cook my pizza alongside him.

It was terrifying. My pizza was ultimately more oval than round, definitely burned on the bottom, and had cheese actually spilling over the edge. (I don’t believe in such a thing as “too much cheese.” This mentality can become a problem in pizza making.)img_4116

While I likely won’t be getting any kitchen job offerings from him any time soon, Wolf (I can call him that, right?) did give some excellent tips on photographing your food. “When I take food pictures, I get as close as possible,” he said, demonstrating his skills.

Naturally, I followed his advice for the rest of the meal/my life. Because, well, he’s Wolfgang Puck.


Outstanding in the… Hardware Store

Leave it to Outstanding in the Field to create a farm tour and dinner in a hurricane that’s actually even more charming and memorable than the original plans. Local wines, beers, and small bites were served in a greenhouse, surrounded by seedlings. From there, guests in rain boots walked to Renfrow Farm for a full tour of its gardens and farm stand, before settling in at long tables on the aisles of the historic Renfrow Hardware.

I would have happily gone to this dinner knowing no one behind it, but I got lucky. Chef Clark Barlowe, who I’ve known since he first started his Charlotte restaurant, spotted me  and gave me a peek inside the “kitchen” (back of the store) as his talented team cooked the incredible dinner. I’ve known the brewer since before he opened his brewery—and even happened to run into him on Friday evening as he was labeling the cans for the event. And it turned out the owners of the hardware store and farm are the siblings of old family friends.

At one point during the dinner, one of women in the (ridiculously fun) group I went with asked me, “What do you love about Charlotte?” I didn’t even really have to think about it. My answer though is entirely reflective of having a night like this—where there were so many familiar faces alongside new and friendly ones gathering around a table. I answered:

“Charlotte is home.”