I decided to start with Arlo, the puppy recently adopted by my sister- and brother-in-law. This dog has no idea how lucky he is. He hit the puppy jackpot when they showed up and took him home. I am not really a dog person, but he is wickedly cute and not a barker (at this point). Even I would be tempted to take him home.
We went up to the North Carolina mountains to visit the in-laws (the Ex-Ex's family) and the out-laws (my family). But my weekend really started at about 11:30 on Friday when I went to Pop's to have lunch with Ann Prospero and some of her writing group friends. It was a pleasure to share a very good meal and talk books, eating, travels, writing, etc. with these feisty women. I am so honored that Ann included me. I had one of Pop's wood-fired pizzas-- roma tomatoes, basil, fresh cheese...
A couple of the ladies chose the vegetarian antipasto...
On Saturday morning, the Ex-Ex and I headed up to the Appalachian Mountains, my birthplace and home for 22 years. We stopped in Asheville for lunch. Downtown Asheville is a far cry from what it was when I was 16. It was the hot date spot for the young folk from Spruce Pine. Actually, as far we were concerned, downtown didn't even exist. We would head to Tunnel Road and the Pizza Hut or to the only mall in the area. This weekend, downtown Asheville was crawling with people. We parked near a wine shop (but I was told there wasn't enough time to duck in). We found a great little restaurant named Mayfel's and had lunch.
A triple cheese grilled sandwich and sweet potato fries for moi, with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
The Lumberjack for the Ex-Ex. A breakfast burger, really, with bacon and egg.
He ate every little bite and washed it down with a local beer from Highland Brewing Company.
(Note the name!! But that is not a picture of me. Maybe I should find out where the name comes from. I am acquainted with St. Teresa of Avila, my patron saint, but I am not convinced she is the patron saint of this beer.) Here is Highland's description of the beer--
A golden pale ale having a slightly malty body balanced by an assertive American hop flavor. This pale ale displays a delicate hop nose due to the process of dry hopping. A crisp and refreshing beer perfect for any occasion.
Kind of like moi! Although I am not exactly sure what a malty body is.
After lunch, we listened to a Christian hip-hop group, but storm clouds were blowing in so we decided to head to the car. Just as we arrived, the wind picked up and the rain began in earnest. Not wanting to try to find our way out of Asheville in a storm, we dashed into, yes, you guessed it, the wine shop, Vinsite. We had time after all.
I met and chatted with the owner, Leslie Doss. He knows Wine Authorities and 3Cups, our local wine shops who also believe in small estate winemakers who are producing their wines as naturally as possible. I tasted a couple of German wines and, when the rain let up a bit, we left with a bottle of Eric Texier Côtes du Rhône.
We then headed over to Brevard, another beautiful town in the mountains. It is smaller than Asheville, with a downtown lined with shops. Brevard College is there. It is a very popular retirement and let's-buy-a-second-home-in-a-cooler-place spot. The in-laws had made reservations at Marco Trattoria for dinner.
A wonderful house with a big front porch turned into a restaurant. We settled on a carafe of the house red, salads, and our main courses. I chose an arugula goat cheese salad. The goat cheese was spread on warm, soft bread atop a lovely bed of fresh arugula, dressed with olive oil and served with a grilled lemon and the crunch of red sea salt.
Brother-in-law chose a romaine salad with gorgonzola dressing and smoked bacon.
I labored over the main dish choices. I finally chose baked ziti with ratatouille vegetables and fresh ricotta. It was hot, through and through, just the way it should be, with smoked mozzarella cheese melted on top.
(I longed for the duck confit risotto and kind of regret not ordering it... next time.)
The Ex-Ex and his sister chose smoked sausage, shrimp and walnuts over butternut squash ravioli.
Brother-in-law ate chicken parmesan over tomato spaghetti and proclaimed the chicken cooked just right.
We did not save room for dessert. White chocolate and blueberry bread pudding was tempting, though. What a wonderful meal and, as always, great conversation. I've said this before and will say it again, I won the in-law lottery when I married into this family.
Sunday morning, we got up and were treated to brother-in-law's blueberry pancakes for breakfast. The blueberries were from his own backyard bush, gathered last summer and frozen. We then headed to Spruce Pine to a family reunion. Spruce Pine is in Mitchell county, tucked away just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a small town famous for feldspar mining and minerals and gems. If you have ever been to a Southern family reunion, you know there is going to be a lot of good food. Sister Moo made meatballs in barbecue sauce, Sister Cindy Lou Who made macaroni salad with lots of cucumbers and tomatoes. There were several different fried chicken variations. Homemade bread and biscuits. Green beans. My niece, Wonder Woman, made banana pudding. One year, there was none at this particular annual gathering and folks still talk about "the year that no one made banana pudding." I paid careful attention, or at least I tried to, as my niece made it.
No vanilla wafers here. Fancy Pepperidge Farms Chessmen cookies. I had to jump in line quickly to make sure that I got some. The out-laws show no mercy when there is banana pudding involved.
After a weekend like this one, I realize it is a darned good thing that I get up at the crack of dawn every morning to walk the Duke Fitness Trail with the BFF.
I also realize how much I miss the mountains.
Candice's Banana Pudding
2-3 bananas, sliced
Vanilla wafers or other cookies of choice
Vanilla pudding (or Chef Érick's crème anglaise-- recipe follows)
Line a serving bowl with cookies and layer bananas and pudding. Top with whipped cream. Chill.
(But the banana pudding I had at Big Ed's in Raleigh was served warm... and very, very good.)
Another variation is to top with meringue (save the egg whites from the crème anglaise) and bake for just a few minutes.
Chef Érick's Crème Anglaise
(can be doubled)
1 c. whole milk
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 egg yolks
3 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Heat milk in double boiler.
Place cornstarch in a separate bowl and whisk in the egg yolks. When milk is hot, but not boiling, remove from heat and quickly whisk in cornstarch mixture. Then quickly whisk in sugar and vanilla. Return to heat, just long enough to warm all ingredients and for the pudding to thicken. Cool in refrigerator until ready to use.
And for good measure, here is Julia Child's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking:
(makes 2 cups)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
1 tsp. cornstarch or potato starch
1 3/4 c. boiling milk
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract (or 1 tsp. vanilla extract and 1 Tbsp. rum, kirsch, cognac, orange liqueur, or instant coffee)
Gradually beat the sugar into the egg yolks with a whisk and continue beating for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is pale yellow and forms ribbons. Beat in the optional starch. While beating the yolk mixture, very gradually pour on the boiling milk in a thin stream of droplets so that the yolks are slowly warmed. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and set over moderate heat, stirring slowly and continuously with a wooden spatula or spoon, and reaching all over the bottom and sides of the pan, until the sauch thickens just enough to coat the spoon with a light, creamy layer. Do not let the custard come anywhere near the simmer. Maximum temperature is 165 degrees on a candy thermometer (170 if you used starch). Then beat the sauce off heat for a minute or two to cool it. Strain it through a fine sieve, and beat in one of the flavorings.
To serve hot: Keep the sauce over warm but not hot water. If you wish, beat in 1-2 tablespoons of unsalted butter just before serving.
To serve cold: Set the saucpan in a pan of cold water, and stir frequently until cool. Then cover and chill.
Bon appétit, in-laws and out-laws everywhere!