A fifty dollar ticket into the Biltmore gives you a self guided tour of the large house and access to the adjacent gardens, a lake and a shopping area with wine tasting, food and live music. We were there on a rainy, hot and humid Tuesday. It was crowded, very crowded. Wall to wall people from all around the world.
The house was an impressive time capsule… rooms with Haunted Mansion-like wood finishings, velvet tapestries and ornate wallpaper, fancy hand carved furniture, hallways packed with portraits, a large spiral staircase and the kitchen/pantry/laundry wing was fascinating. There’s an indoor pool in the basement with zero windows that everyone swears is haunted. A cinderblock basement room was festively hand-painted by a younger Vanderbilt for a New Year’s party. The art was taken from a Russian circus troupe’s flyer and it looked like a mash up of the Tim Burton signature spiral background, Dr. Seuss’ spikey bear-like creatures, matryoshka doll drawings mixed with some light opiate use. And to round out the 80+ rooms, there are many specific rooms for changing, smoking and sitting. Apparently, people used to change their clothing several times a day. You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but if it was allowed, we’d all be trapped in a sea of selfie sticks and tripods.
There was a lightning storm passing overhead as we toured the house. The moment the booming stopped, we rushed over and had the gardens to ourselves before the masses descended behind us. We were so lucky to have a bit of quiet time with the flowers.
You know how your family would plan vacations months in advance? You’d research and read reviews, get a feel for your destination, plan out each day accordingly and budget your time at each place, right?
My Mom said she was coming out from Los Angeles fairly last minute and we decided to go to Asheville for a few days and the rest of the week was up in the air!
So, we rented an adorable duplex cottage house in Asheville from a lovely couple. Upon our arrival, we were told that we had just missed a mother bear and her 3 cubs, steps from the front door of the rental cottage. Bummer. Instead, we saw turkeys (and baby turkeys!), lots of lightning bugs and a few deer. Here’s the view from our back deck…
We went into town one day and did some window shopping, but missed the Pinball Museum being open! (dang it!)
With little warning, my Mom declared that she wanted to see waterfalls. We both only brought sandals… go us…
At the pace we were moving, I can honestly say that I can’t really remember where those waterfalls were… it was exhausting.
The weather here in North Carolina was delightful this last weekend. It was cool and overcast… hinting that fall is around the corner.
We decided to go for a drive and enjoy the afternoon. We stopped at Lake Crabtree park and were pleasantly surprised at how much there was to do there.
Got some fantastic pictures of Meg with all the gorgeous yellow daisies…
As we ventured into the park, past sandy volleyball courts and picnicking couples, we noticed that they rented boats. $7 for one full hour on a canoe… a bargain!
The gentleman renting these boats was super friendly and stopped to talk to us and pet Meg. He told us about another couple who frequented the park and canoed regularly with their golden retriever. “Their dog is SO good… she just lays down as they paddle all over the lake!”
In my mind, all I heard was “you have a challenge afoot”. A ‘who has the best dog’ competition. I hear “they have a good dog” and I think… “no, MEG is the BEST dog. I must prove this to the world”.
Somehow, this conversation ended with us getting in a canoe, wearing life jackets. With our dog… Who has never been on a boat before. She’s been on a small train at Travel Town. But never anything in the water.
Did you know that canoes tip easily when there is any movement? I grew up riding jet skis… something without a motor, that has a very low center of gravity and requires paddles to propel… totally foreign to me.
So, as our new friend pushed us out into the water, he had a very concerned look on his face as we were trying to paddle while holding the dog down and yelling “STAY!” every few seconds. The boat was wobbling all over the place. It must have been pretty comical to watch. I had my deer-in-the-headlights face on while I was thinking that I had just made a huge mistake.
It took a while to get Meg to relax, and because she was behind me, I had no idea what she was doing. So, I would paddle, then say “stay”, then say “good girl”, paddle, “stay”, paddle, “stay”, paddle, glance, “stay”. It wasn’t the best start to our nautical adventure. Nathan had to give me updates on what she was doing and how she was handling it all. Sheer panic on my part finally turned into calm enjoyment as Meg laid down in the canoe as we paddled along the edge of the lake and got to explore. The water was calm, planes were taking off overhead and it was really an amazing experience.
As we headed back, and I was bragging about how good she was being, Meg saw a bird or something equally as exciting and she quickly sat up. Of course we were in the deeper part of the lake and once again, my adrenaline started up again as the canoe started jerking back and forth. Nathan claims he had it all under control, but all I could see in my mind was us trying to lift a wet dog into a canoe while trying to tread water… shivering and laughing… then going to the At&t store to replace our cell phones later on.
I have no idea if Meg actually liked being on the boat or not, but we’re going to try again. It was a great introduction for all of us, anyway. I really liked the parts where we weren’t on the verge of tipping over and my heart wasn’t in my throat.
I’m happy to report we arrived back safe and dry… and I can’t wait to go back! Best seven bucks we ever spent :)
We didn’t just chase food trucks all day long (although, it was fun!), we also visited (more than) a few places around town…
First off, not in town but it needs to be mentioned, we had our first Mexican food experience in a long time at a place in Albuquerque New Mexico called El Charritos.
We each had a twin helping of enchiladas:
And sopaipillas came with every meal. They brought us these things with a squeeze bottle full of honey. I’ve never had one. Now I know what I was missing. Fried dough? Yes, please. (seriously… that should have been the meal).
They had a little patio, so we could bring Meg. You can tell she was as excited about the experience as we were!
Our Mexican food experience continued when our friend introduced us to Norma’s Tacos in Pasadena.
It’s a cute little taco stand made from a converted gas station.
The tacos were good and super fresh, made with fresh handmade tortillas, the sauces were excellent and it was a gorgeous day out. Although, they put guacamole on everything, and I mean everything. So if you aren’t a fan, as I am not, you may want to be very specific about that. (I know, I know… from California and I don’t bow to the glorious avocado… it’s a curse I suppose).
The House of Pies has been on the Food Network and has an interesting Hollywood-flavored history. Rumor has it, Quentin Tarantino worked on “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” here as did Charlie Kaufman with “Being John Malkovich.” If they wrote at night, I’m not sure how… the lighting in this joint is pretty bad for writing. They don’t seem like guys who write in the bright light of day… but that’s just an observation. Perhaps the pie made up for the horrible lighting.
Behold… the pie.
This is the peanut butter cream pie, which was amazing. I’m a big peanut butter fan. The crust was perfect and the filling to whipped cream ratio was really good. (Although, we later were introduced to the banana cream pie, and I never looked back at the peanut butter again. But I’m guessing, any of their cream pies are superb.)
Another place we frequented was a place on Foothill Boulevard in La Crescenta called Everest. It’s a drive-thru fast food joint. They have great chicken sandwiches (The Mediterranean Chicken is excellent), salads and breakfast burritos. Great prices, open late and the food was consistently good.
They also have a dog-friendly patio! (Yes, that’s Barkley in a stroller. A dog stroller. I’ll revisit this again, later.)
The other cool thing about Everest… it was transformed into “Deb’s Restaurant” in the HBO series Big Love. It’s where Sarah and Heather worked. So, we were eating at a location from one of our favorite shows, which was fun to talk about. I wish I would have snapped a picture of it when they were filming here years ago… I had no idea at the time! They also filmed at a few other locations in the area including Chili John’s in Burbank and Wild Thyme in Pasadena.
While visiting downtown LA to see a sort of variety show hosted by the delightful Charles Phoenix (Which I shall talk about in another post!), we grabbed dinner at a place called Starry Kitchen.
There were some bold choices on the menu that day like, the Chinese Hoisin Hamburger, crunchy tofu balls, basil friend rice and assorted pork Banh Mi and lemongrass chicken wrap and sandwich options. Since they were slammed that day, they were crossing off menu items left and right, leaving us with little to choose from. When my Mom got to the front of the line, she ordered something… I can’t remember what… and the owner yelled “That’s the most f***ing-est boring thing on the menu!!!”. He was cute about it… but… I think it took us all by surprise. So, because of his outburst, she ordered something else, they ran out of it and she went with her “boring” choice anyway. My “boring” choice was the lemongrass chicken wrap and basil fried rice. The wrap tasted pretty good, but a bit messy and drippy (hard to eat while sitting on a bench), so I couldn’t finish it because I was starting to wear it. I love the lemongrass flavor. A burst of citrus with earthy undertones… very fresh and summery. The basil rice was really good, too. If you are ever near Starry Kitchen… I recommend a visit.
A close up of that sign in the room… referring to their crunchy tofu balls.
And this sign was sort of awesome… and notice their lack of beverages and placement of empty cup on the floor. Definitely was a busy day for them.
So, I’ll leave you with Jones Coffee Roasters in Pasadena. We found this place on a food truck gathering night, and I ended up going back to pick up a pound of coffee.
Great atmosphere… including live music the night we were there.
And the coffee is roasted on the premises. Their coffee has a rich, caramel flavor. So, it’s almost sweet without any sugar. Makes for an amazing drip experience at home, or get a latte there… you will not be disappointed!
We visited dozens of other eateries… but the ones above had the most character :)
So, I still have at least 3 more California/trip posts…
awesome LA events we visited, friends’ shops we visited, Meg’s favorite spots and the actual 5,000 miles on the road!
After that, it’s back to art-centric posts. And Halloween is coming!! yay :)
I’m familiar with the food truck concept. We called them ‘roach coaches’ in high school. It was never gourmet… in fact, I remember vividly the very last purchase I made with a roach coach back in 2008. It was because there was mold all over my salsa. Period. End of food truck sentence. Gross.
Then we watched this fascinating show on the Food Network. The Great Food Truck Race. Featuring gourmet food served out of brightly colored boxy trucks. I’m listening…
There were several trucks to start and week by week, they eliminated the truck that didn’t make the most money or who couldn’t perform a specific culinary task. The last two trucks to compete both came from Los Angeles. The Nom Nom truck and the Grill ’em All truck. Pretty cool. The show was a mix of business plan, awesome food idea/theme/branding, good marketing, being at the right place at the right time and great food.
I thought we may accidentally come across a truck while in LA… but I wasn’t going to hunt them down. I mean, come on… who does that?
Then, one Sunday, after dropping off DH at a 3 hour class in Hollywood, I made an illegal U-turn when I saw the Grill ’em All truck parked on Melrose Avenue.
I had Meg and my Mom’s dog Barkley with me. This made getting out of the car, getting a burger and trying to eat this burger on Melrose Avenue a bit difficult. There were dogs and leashes everywhere. Those gathering for a burger gave the pups lots of love and attention, though, so I was able to enjoy my “Hannah Montana” burger, the plainest one on the menu (and I got a bit of a side eye and mocking tone when I ordered it), while leaning up against a wall, flamingo style.
After consuming my incredi-burger. I was now hooked and willing to chase these things. I had caught the food truck bug, sans roach sentiment.
To make my treasure hunt easier, there’s a food truck app called TruxMap. So you know when and where to get your next truck fix.
The parking lot at Fig Produce was hopping with brightly colored food trucks and tons of people, kids and dogs. Fellow foodies were sitting on parking blocks, curbs, leaning against cars and standing… all eating small portions of food on sticks, in little paper bowls and tiny plates. Everyone was smiling, too. Some of the trucks had large flat panel TV’s blaring salsa music or showing a basketball game. It was like a mini food Las Vegas… in a parking lot.
That night, DH and I each had another Grill ’em All burger, shared a smoothie and two bottles of water. Almost $40. We missed getting a waffle a la mode from Waffles De Liege, but a fellow foodie in line for a burger offered me a bite of his. After a few moments of hesitation, and wondering why this lovely person would part with some of his treasure, I ate a chunk of waffle off of a stranger’s plate. Why I just admitted that, I am not sure. Maybe it was because it was the best waffle I’ve ever had. EVER. Perfect texture with a sugary crunch layer, smothered in chocolate, nutella and perfectly ripe sliced strawberries. Angels sang. Well… maybe they hummed a little, but there was music from the heavens in any case. (Little did I know, I would enjoy my very own waffle two weeks later in Pasadena, see below.) But at that moment, Jose the waffle bearer was my new best friend. Jose is a carpenter on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, too. His generosity will not be forgotten.
After this magical experience, I dragged my Mom to a food truck gathering at Jones Coffee Roasters in Pasadena.
Mom and I shared some Asian/Mexican fusion tacos and our very own Waffles De Liege waffle. Behold… the waffle:
The perfect waffle; a scoop of Fossleman’s vanilla ice cream, bananas, pecans, nutella and caramel. Yes. We did. And it was $11. Worth every cent. Although, we couldn’t finish the darn thing.
I think the most interesting truck was the Phydough truck. They sell only gourmet organic dog cookies. For dogs. Not human consumption. People walking up to the truck were mocking the concept, but I couldn’t resist. $12.00 later, I walked away with 8 dog cookies. Two of each… peanut butter & bacon, duck fat, apple oatmeal and pumpkin . The truck was lined with AstroTurf, they had a doggie mascot inside, I paid using a snazzy new ipad credit card thingy and the owner was delightful. What’s not to love? ;)
Our third trip to a food truck gathering was at the Chef’s Center on San Gabriel Blvd in Pasadena.
On this visit, we tried the lemongrass chicken tacos from the Nom Nom truck, our friends had the banh mi sandwiches and then we got in the monstrous line for the Cool Haus truck, the much talked-about ice cream sandwich experience.
See where the truck is? I took the picture after being in line 5 minutes. Yes. That was my place in line… that long winding line.
As if the ice cream gods were laughing at us, as we inched our way to the front of the line, the popular flavors of ice cream were being crossed off the menu. Each time the super tall guy (watching him bend down 2 or 3 feet to get to the ordering window was a hoot) serving up the goods took a pause to remove a flavor, the line got silent, and many audible “NOoooo!”‘s could be heard all around us as a flavor departed into ice cream heaven.
I had my first, second and third choices picked, fingers crossed. But when I got to be the 2nd person in line, my 3rd choice was the only one available, and the lady in line in front of me got the last bit of it. So, seconds away from my turn, and 25ish minutes after I got in that line, I pouted out of line like a four year old not getting her pick of carousel pony.
I wasn’t interested in the beer and pretzel, mascarpone & fig, pineapple mint sorbet or earl gray sorbet flavors. I may have tried the earl gray sorbet on its own (given a different day and attitude), but I was on a mission to try the complete ice cream sandwich package that they’d been bragging about. I made the mistake of angrily shouting “sorbet has no place in an ice cream sandwich!” I wasn’t going to bend, even though I was now branded the ice cream line jerk. So, Cool Haus… you get a big wag of the finger on this one. Uncool. (But of course I’ll try again some other time).
We had other random food truck encounters…
NaanStop in West LA… best Chicken Tikka!
Just up the street in La Crescenta… NomNom for the 3rd time
And our last encounter was tracking down the Grill ’em All truck one last time, and introduced my Mom to their burgers… She had the Blue Cheer…
Nathan had the Behemoth… which has grilled cheese sandwiches for BUNS….
But I stuck with my simple Hannah Montana… ketchup only… burger… again.
We listened to the planes take off from the nearby Burbank Airport and sat on the curb, surrounded by a dozen Yahoo badge-wearing employees standing and sitting under trees on the corner of a semi-busy street. Everyone was discussing their burger choices. It was a happy burger gathering.
I could totally get used to this. Is Yahoo hiring?
Perhaps we are allergic to planning things, perhaps the OCD runs deep… but when someone asks you “what do you want to do this holiday weekend?”, it usually doesn’t involve a 40 hour cross country drive.
We were supposed to go to my friend’s wedding in New York for the Memorial Day weekend. A leisurely 10 hour drive. But with a series of dog-sitting miscommunications, and therefore a lack of one, we had to find a place we could go with our 72 pound dog. Why not my Mom’s house! The logic, at the time, was air tight.
Cut to us driving on the I-40… and me having a panic attack once we got into Tennessee.
The “for-realsies” kicked in. For example…gas is almost $4.00 a gallon, I just closed my online stores for 4-8 weeks, I will not have my computer friend (only an iphone). ohboy… hand me a paper bag.
So in record time, we got to Los Angeles. Fourty hours in 3 days. Being in Arkansas one night, then in Los Angeles the next, but your vehicle, possessions and dog are with you. Totally surreal. But I have to point out… every Starbucks in this great nation is basically the SAME. How do they do this?!? Even the golden arches have slight variations on their menu and choice of play place… (not that I’ve checked). But… yes. Starbucks… I thank you for making a universal iced caramel macchiato.
So… since this was an EPIC trip… I’m going to break it down into bite-size blog chunks. Because, really… a busy schedule was kept.
I missed seeing many of our California pals (I’m looking at several of you), but… one epiphany on this trip is that we do miss that smog infested, freeway congested, perfect Mexican food bearing warm fuzzy that is Southern California. It’s not a desperate, folk-song writing need… but… we do miss our home state.
So, chances are… we’ll be moving back in the next 24 +/- months (and I will be stalking all of you who I didn’t visit last month). Alas, we have adult commitments to consider before we just pack up our legos and head back again, so it will probably be later than sooner. A few folks, after hearing the news that we were homesick, blurted out such phrases as … “just sell it ALL and get back NOW”. I think they need a dose of the “for-realsies”, too. (A bit of a jolt, they are, those realsies. I don’t like them.)
So, let me gather my thoughts and my 900 iphone photos. I’ll lay out a few more posts and share with you the madness that was our adventure. Oh and 10,000 miles. We put 10,000 miles on our van in 7 weeks. That usually takes 18 months. Our Honda minivan, “Vanna the Grey”, is awesome… our trip was sort of awesome, too.
From San Diego…
To Santa Barbara…
And a whole lot in between… (And even the Colorado River on the way back!)
We saw a LOT… And did a lot!
And had a little photo shoot with our friend Michelle, too ;)
So, that’s why I haven’t been writing… but I plan on making up for lost time in the weeks to come ;)
p.s… oh, and I’ve been painting a lot, too… I’ll share that after sharing the trip :)
I grew up knowing that an earthquake could strike at any time, but we didn’t really prepare for it. I think we got one earthquake kit once that expired and ended up being thrown away, never being touched (I should count my blessings!). I knew about doorways, staying away from windows, getting under large pieces of furniture etc etc.
The Northridge quake was in 1994. Up until then I hadn’t felt anything bigger than a 4.something. Now that I look at that wikipedia page, that quake was only 10-20 seconds long and was a 6.7… nothing like what Japan experienced. But it did a lot of damage, nonetheless. And scary… boy, was it scary.
I’ve been on the east coast for 3 years. We’ve had warnings and watches and lightning and wind… lots of “extreme” weather, but nothing major. I’ve sort of adopted the locals’ attitude regarding weather events… stock up on basics, ice and beer… lots of beer!
But this time… it was different. The local news mentioned that a big storm was coming our way on Saturday. This storm had left a wake of destruction in its path and there were lots of tornadoes but… err… Sunday… Sunday is going to be sunny and breezy and AWESOME! We can’t wait for Sunday! End of story.
Our usual pre-storm visit to the grocery store was the least stressful pre-storm visit I’d ever had. The last time (can’t even remember when that was!) I ran into our old neighbors at the Trader Joe’s and we joked about the lines and how freaked out everyone was. Nothing happened that time. Or the time before, or the time before…
I was sensing a pattern here…
Saturday morning… woke up late, turned on the weather channel. Storms were heading our way.
My friend, new to North Carolina, texted me and said she was a bit scared. I told her it was nothing to worry about. We chatted on the phone, she hung up because the storm was getting really hairy and she has a 19 month old to take care of. She’s 2 hours west of us. It passed her, and didn’t really do anything but be ominous and loud. Phew… she’s okay.
It’s heading our way now…
The weather channel reported that a tornado touched down in Sanford, which is south and west of us. gulp. The friendly weather channel meteorologist, who kept boasting that he had studied under Ted Fujita, who came up with the Fujita scale for rating tornado intensity, said… “this doesn’t look good… it looks like this tornado is going straight for downtown Raleigh”. He looked scared… or at least a wee bit dismayed.
Yes, it felt like a John Woo movie, find a few doves to release. Yes, deep down I knew we would be okay… but… this was new to me… and all I knew was that tornadoes generally move in a north-east direction, drop houses on bad witches and if it decided to skip up and say hello to us, we were really close. I sort of freaked out (it’s in my nature) and started dragging photo albums into the basement.
Here’s a map of the path of the tornadoes that came to visit yesterday. I took the liberty of marking where we live…
So, it all missed us. One of our neighbors sat on his deck all day and admired the storm with his two little dogs, some other neighbors ran errands and checked the tornado path on their phones, and just went about their day.
Meanwhile, I was hoarding bottles of water and clutching a blankie while flipping through news channels. Crank flashlight to the left of me, passports and birth certificates to the right (don’t ask).
After all was said and done… we were all fine. Just really shaken up.
We decided to drive to the area around our old neighborhood, near Holly Springs, and check it out. We saw some debris, trees that had been snapped… minor damage… but then it got worse and worse. We decided not to drive into any of the subdivisions and be lookie-loos when everyone was so clearly trying to clean up.
Instead, we drove south to Sanford, to check out the Lowes Hardware that had been hit hard. We didn’t know we what we were going to see along the way…
This is a house! (?) !
You see the pictures in the news… it doesn’t do it justice. To be there… to see the damage… the sheer energy that this tornado emitted, and how wide of a path it actually made. To be driving along and all of a sudden see those trees completely snapped in half (the first few photos), and to be surrounded by it. It’s a tremendous and humbling feeling for sure. And quite overwhelming.
Our pictures don’t show even .1% of the damage we’ve seen on the news and online. You should see the aerial shots of the path of the tornado in Sanford (news link below).
The locals were busy cutting down trees and cleaning up. Mostly all smiles, which was surprising… and really cool.
If you’d like to read more, here’s a link to our local news station (that went OFF the air in the middle of their broadcast because the tornado was heading straight for them! To turn to your trusty local news and see a blank, bright yellow screen… sort of eerie! Not like our dedicated NBC news crew in 1994(see below))
When all the storms were winding down, the meteorologist at the Weather Channel reminded us that… “well, Sunday is still going to be gorgeous and AWESOME while you are out there cleaning up the debris with your chainsaws and whatnot!”. Yep.
Again, more respect for Mother Nature. We are so lucky. And our thoughts and prayers go out to those who didn’t fare so well.
= Bronchitis. 12 full days. I’m SO behind on work. Getting caught up has been interesting!
But this last weekend was jam packed with adventures.
My friend from LA was in town and we went antiquing. Here are some random stealth iphone shots:
And then… we went for a quick visit to the NC zoo with our friends who just moved here from Southern California…
The newest members were these albino alligators that apparently are supposed to be good luck…
So, they had a good luck display outside of the alligator exhibit, which our friends’ little boy posed in!
He had a really fun day! :) (So did we!)
We’re fascinated with alligators, so when we saw this squirrel playing in the tree above these sleepy gators, we were reluctantly curious to what he was doing. I got this video, but really, nothing happens until the 0:46 mark, so fast forward :) (I need to work on my editing skills!) Oh, and you may want to click “full screen” mode to see the little guy in action:
It’s a little hard to see, and maybe you had to be there, but it was hilarious to watch! (And a relief that he got away without a scratch!)
Pollen, allergies, being outdoors… I guess this means we’re officially in the middle of spring!
And pink blossoms and lots of birdies… And grumpy birds, too! ;)