Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Life is good in the Bull City!

My first glimpse of Durham, North Carolina came my senior year in high school in 1976. My French Club (oui, I was Mademoiselle la Présidente- another reason why my sons call me a nerd) raised money for a trip to Québec during our Easter break. I was so excited. My first trip north of North Carolina and to another country! At this point in my life, I hadn't even been on a plane yet. I wasn't able to go to France with Mme Buchanan, my French teacher, the year before because my parents couldn't afford it. I don't think I even bothered to ask, just vowing to myself that I would indeed go someday (not quite the scene at Tara in Gone With The Wind when Scarlett O'Hara rips downs the curtains to make a dress but the same idea). We left Spruce Pine on a chartered bus with a great driver we nicknamed Pierre. Our first stop was the bus station in Durham. I have no idea why we stopped. Gas, maybe? Certainly no other passengers. Anyway, that was all I remember of Durham.
My senior year at ASU, I decided to apply for a teaching position at Durham Academy. A friend from Chapel Hill told me about the independent school. It was the only "real" only job I applied for. My roommate interviewed in Raleigh while I was at DA interviewing in the spring of 1980. Two weeks later, Rob Hershey, then head of school, called me up and offered me the job. I immediately accepted. I knew I wanted to teach middle school French and I really liked all the people I met when I interviewed. Seventh grade boys? Bring them on. No match for a bossy girl, the oldest of four, from the Appalachian Mountains. I moved to Chapel Hill, where I lived for two years, first with a woman who worked at UNC's dental school and then with a friend from home. Chapel Hill and I didn't really click so when marriage happened, I happily moved to Durham.
Twenty-seven years later I am still here. I've lived in apartments and several different houses (always in the same zip code, though, I now realize). I've driven on most of the streets of Durham, carting my boys to basketball and baseball practices and games, going to various community service projects with students, checking out books at the libraries, shopping for bargains at thrift shops and the malls, of course, visiting friends and taking the boys to visit friends, just to mention a few of our activities over the years.
What struck me most upon my return to Durham from my sabbatical in France was how much I love this city. I hadn't really given it much thought before I left for six months. Changes were beginning to happen in downtown. Old tobacco buildings (the name Bull Durham comes from the cigarette and chewing tobacco business that was here) were being renovated, new restaurants were coming to town, the Nasher art museum had been built at Duke. Wool E. Bull already had his new home at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (the DBAP as opposed to the old one, the DAP, of Bull Durham movie fame). When I returned in December, one of the first things my BFF Martha did was toss me in her mini-van for a tour. We drove by the Durham Performing Arts Center (the DPAC-- see a pattern here?), the new bus station, Central Park where the Farmers' Market is held each Saturday (and Wednesday afternoons during the summer), down Ninth Street to have a bagel at Bruegger's, just to name a few of the sights on the tour.
I was glad to be home! I did have a moment of panic, though, when shopping for Christmas gifts at Southpoint Mall. It is relatively new and beautiful at Christmas time because of the huge outdoor lighted tree in front of the cinéma. I was inside, though, and there were so many people, all of them speaking English and rushing around. All of a sudden, I felt very claustrophobic and had to get out. I was simply overwhelmed. Post-France traumatic syndrome? Withdrawal pains from hearing and speaking only French, the most beautiful language in the world?
I more or less eased back into American life-- high school and college basketball games, back to dressing up for school, occasional fast food meals, reading the Durham Herald-Sun newspaper in English every morning (and seeing my final column sent from France in print- quite a thrill). I imagine everyone around me got very, very tired of hearing me start a sentence with "In Arles, we..." or "In France, they..." I still use Pardon whenever I wish to excuse myself. I still talk about the glorious food and sights that I saw. I now try to teach my students practical words and expressions I learned. I chat on-line occasionally with Chef Érick to find out what he is cooking and eating. I email the friends I made. I try new recipes. I've discovered new restaurants and look forward to discovering more. I am back in Durham, proud to be an American, proud to live in this city.
Here are a few of my local favorites...
  • The Wine Authorities (the rosé garden will get its own blog entry soon!)
  • Foster's Market coffee, scones and fresh salads
  • Saturday mornings at the Durham Farmers' Market (with a cup of Foster's coffee in my hand!)
  • Durham Bulls baseball games (BBQ sandwiches, hot dogs, nachos and cold beer) on a warm spring/summer evening
  • French movies (with popcorn, of course) at the Carolina Theatre
  • Dinner at Watts Grocery - they use local produce (the Ponzi Pinot Gris there is so good)
  • Chatham Hill Winery in Morrisville- Marek's wine is amazing; 4th Friday evenings there after work are quite a treat, especially if Nancy is working at the tasting bar
  • Elmo's Diner on Ninth Street for breakfast- omelets, grits, biscuits, etc.
  • Nantucket Grill at Sutton Station on a Saturday night- sitting outside, good wine, to die for desserts made on the premises, live music
  • Guglhupf Bakery's bread and pains au chocolat
  • Dinner at Pop's or Rue Cler with the Arles 6-- eating anywhere with the Arles 6!! (Let's go back to France, mes amis!)
  • Saladelia's hummus and tabouli salads and warm pita bread (the BFF loves their Heath Bar cookies)
  • Pulcinella's pizza and lasagna- I do plan to try other things on the menu!
  • Lamb from Costco (to be stuffed with anchovies and garlic)
  • Vin Rouge restaurant on a summer evening-- outdoor seating, great food and wine (mussels- oh là là)
  • Cooking at C'est si Bon! with Dorette- the cooking is so much fun that eating is almost anticlimactic (almost, but not quite!!)
  • Wandering the aisles of A Southern Season just to gaze at all of the French offerings
  • Four Eleven's artichoke dip and their black pepper angel hair pasta with salmon
  • Drinks at City Beverage- yummy margaritas and beer-batter fried asparagus
  • Grilled burgers and wine on the deck of our townhome- nice shade,watching herbs, tomatoes and sunflowers grow, listening to music... ah oui, la vie est très bonne!
I will continue to update this list as the summer progresses and I have more time to pursue eating adventures in and around Durham. I do need to research future columns for the Herald-Sun!

This recipe for scones is from my friend and colleague Daniela Harrell. It is so easy and so good. I prefer using yogurt instead of milk.

Quick Scones

Strawberries are in season! Serve these pastries with ripe juicy berries and whipped cream. Or serve them hot with butter and jam.

2 c. all-purpose flour (I used organic pre-sifted Gold Medal)
¼ c. granulated sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ c. cold butter
½ c. currants, raisins, or other dried fruit, if desired
1 egg
2/3 c. milk or ¾ c. (175 ml) plain yogurt (the yogurt produces a moister scone)
egg yolk for brushing tops
granulated sugar for sprinkling or fruit preserves

In large bowl, put flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter and cut in until crumbly. Stir in dried fruit, if using. Make a well in the center.

In small bowl, beat egg until frothy. Pour into well. Stir in milk or yogurt slowly with a fork, stirring until a sof dough forms. Turn out on lightly floured surface. Knead 8-10 times. Divide into 2 equal parts. Pat each into a 6-inch circle. Transfer to greased baking sheet. Brush tops with egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar. Score each top into 6 pie-shaped markings. Bake in 425F oven for 15 minutes until risen and browned slightly. Brush with fruit preserves after removing from oven, if desired.

Bon appétit! Bonnes vacances!

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