Sunday, July 31, 2011

Birthday Celebrations

I love birthdays and think that one should make the celebration last as long as possible.  Especially as one gets older and is une femme d'un certain âge.  So, my birthday came and went this week with lots of celebrating.
Starting with a pedicure gift from the BFF--
(I am learning to love orange...)
Then moving on to a dinner out at Vin Rouge, a restaurant I've written about before and dream about.  It is that good.  The Ex-Ex and I have gone there and I've been there a couple of times with friends.

This time, however, I was invited to go with a childhood friend and former across-the-creek neighbor, someone I hadn't seen in years, but reconnected with on Facebook.  I rarely see or keep in touch with anyone, other than my family, from my Spruce Pine days.  I am not sure why except that I moved away and moved on.  So, when Miss Mary suggested dinner at Vin Rouge, I was quickly accepted.  Then, add to the mix her son, Aaron, who would be there, she was bringing some girlfriends, and I would get to meet Chef Matt Kelly. Miss Mary and Matt go way back.  Aaron worked for him in the past and now is back for more Durham food adventures.  (More about that will follow as soon as I get another chance to talk to him and we make his grandmother's fried chicken!)

The BFF had never been to Vin Rouge, so she needed to be there, too.  I was so proud of her... she ordered her first escargots!
They were délicieux.  I love Chef Matt's pork rillette, so there was no question what I would choose as my appetizer.
What a beautiful plate.  A work of art.
Someone else ordered oysters.
Aaron ordered oysters gratinées and I ate one (without taking a photo first-- too greedy).  Oysters, leeks, bacon, and gruyère cheese.  Hard to go wrong with that combination.
Next came caramelized onion and goat cheese tart for the BFF.
And because I am such a creature of habit or maybe just a shameless carnivore who cannot pass up a perfect steak, I went for the hangar steak with bleu cheese butter, medium rare, melt-in-your-mouth perfect.
The BFF and I shared bites.  I would have been tempted by the Duck Confit salad, but they were out of it.
And birthdays aren't complete with a candle stuck in something really good.  In this case, a lemon tart and whipped cream.
Our wines were a Côtes de Gascogne, Domaine des Cassagnoles 2009 and an Alsatian Riesling, since Vin Rouge is celebrating Paul Grieco's Summer of Riesling.
Cheers, Birthday Girl!
But that's not all.
The next day, my "real" birthday, I was taken out to lunch by the BFF.  Summer vacation and eating lunch out is such a treat.  We went to Bull City Burger and Brewery.
French champagne was involved.  BCBB was celebrating an important milestone, the main reason for a glass of French bubbles from Wine Authorities. (There has been no summer slump at BCBB-- the place is breaking records.)
I am seriously addicted to their deep-fried pretzel-crusted pickle chips served with  an aioli dipping sauce.
And although I am a documented meat-eater, the BFF suggested the Market Burger.
She knows me well.  I have gone on and on about polenta recently on our early morning 3-mile walks.
It was excellent.  Beautiful inside and out.

My final celebration was a night out at the Durham Bulls baseball park for a game against Gwinnett.
It was arranged by my pretend daughter, Nat.  She and her husband, parents, brother and sister-in-law were there, along with me, the Ex-Ex, our college-bound son and his girlfriend.  Dollar hotdogs, peanuts, and Carolina Brewery's Bullpen Pale Ale.  The Bulls lost, but are still in the lead, as we head into August.
Following my grandfather's tradition of bringing birthday cake to his grandchildren on his birthday, I made zucchini lemon crunch cake for my new friends, the teachers and staff of Student U.  I've been lucky to work with them this summer and see what they do to make a difference in the lives of Durham students.
I did save one piece for the Ex-Ex's breakfast.  And he brought me lovely pink flowers to work on my big day.  What a sweetheart.
(Thanks to Skitch for rescuing me again-- the flowers are on my desk at school and I haven't photographed them yet!)

The "guys" at school showered me with food gifts.  Tomatoes fresh from their gardens.  (I have already consumed more than one tomato sandwich...)  I plan to make penne pasta with "popped" tomato sauce for dinner tonight.
And a certain security guy brought me a peach milkshake from Chick-fil-A.  With little pieces of fresh peaches in it.  Soooo good.

Bon appétit, family and friends! You make my life worth celebrating!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On the road again

I've been traveling again.  Back to the mountains, after gathering up my beach treasures.
I hit the road this time with my sister and niece for a girls' weekend of fun in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains.  We were taking a back road, through Madison county, when all of a sudden a mama black bear and her two cubs crossed the road right in front of us.  We all looked at each other, wondering if we really saw we what we thought we did.  I had my camera in my lap, but they were just too fast and I was just too dumbfounded to take a photo.  But I found replicas of them in Gatlinburg--
It was a beautiful drive.  Lots of barns (a trip just to photograph barns would be amazing),

green pastures, creeks and rivers to cross and interesting Tennessee license plates.
Our destination was Pigeon Forge.  I tried to pass myself off as Dolly Parton's long lost daughter, but no one believed it.  Hey, I think I can see a little resemblance...
Well, we are both wearing black.
Anyway, Dolly is from this part of Tennessee and there are reminders everywhere.
We spent all day at her water park, Splash Country, right next door to Dollywood.
Lots of fun, even if Moo did push us both under the waterfall at Lazy River and try to drown us.  She can be a mean one.
But we love her anyway.  I guess.
And speaking of mean tricks...

This innocent little face left her two favorite aunts stranded outside a locked car in the pouring rain after dinner.  On purpose.  We didn't melt, but our hair sure was a mess.  She got a good laugh out of it.
On Sunday, we went to Gatlinburg to the aquarium.
It was really cool.  All kinds of critters swimming around.

 And more critters gawking at them through the glass.
And penguins!  I love these little darlings.
Even pretend ones.
I always look for French connections and they usually are not hard to find most anywhere I go.  From Lalique crystal fish
to a Jules Verne quote
to a fish called a French grunt (they evidently make a grunting noise by grinding teeth that are located in the back of their throat and amplifying this sound by their swim bladder).
Who knew?
Before leaving for home, we had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe.  The cafe at the aquarium is appropriately named, though.

We were seated in the wedding chapel room, featuring photos of Elvis and Priscilla on their big day and Johnny Cash's guitar.
And I ordered grilled ratatouille vegetables.  Always a favorite.  And yet another French connection.
And then it was time to head down out of the mountains, after stopping in Spruce Pine to hug Mama Mildred.
It was a great weekend.
Oh!  But one really weird thing... We went to the grocery store in Pigeon Forge.  I decided to check out the wine aisle.  I found two bottles of Boone's Farm and some alcohol-removed wine.  Huh??  I asked the guy working there what was up with that.  No wine stronger than Boone's Farm (around 4% alcohol, I think) in Pigeon Forge.   We would have had to drive to Gatlinburg for that.  And by the way, I am proud to say that Boone's Farm has never crossed my lips.  Never ever. 
Moo's only request was that I bring chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, her favorite.  I pulled out the urban legendary Neiman Marcus recipe that has been in my recipe box for years and years and obliged.  I think they were the best cookies I've ever made.  But that's just me and I love warm cookies right out of the oven.

Neiman Marcus Cookies
makes 112;  can be halved

2 c. butter
2 c. granulated sugar
2 c. brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
5 c. blended oatmeal (measure oatmeal and blend in food processor to a semi-fine powder)
24 oz. chocolate chips
1- 8 oz. Hershey bar, grated (I used a Lindt dark chocolate sea salt bar instead)
3 c. nuts, your choice (optional- I did not use)

Cream the butter and sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix together the dry ingredients and then add to the butter mixture.  Add the chocolate chips, grated chocolate bar and nuts, if using.  Roll into balls and place two inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 9 - 10 minutes at 375˚F.

Bon appétit, Dolly, Moo, and Best Niece in the World!