Category Archives: chocolate

A Taste of Asheville

Asheville sunset

Asheville, NC

was my destination for Day 2. Have you heard of Asheville? I had not until about a year ago, when my numerous trips to Charlotte, NC meant that I had dipped a toe in the waters of western North Carolina, leaving me clamoring for more.

Asheville is the unofficial capital of the western North Carlina region, which includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (but more on that in the next post!) and a whole lot of rural backwaters. My first few hours there I walked only a few blocks, but found above 7 street musicians performing- quite a musical town, it seems.

I also found several different views of the city itself from denizens and newly-arrived outsiders, from “artsy” to “overpriced” to “in the process of gentrifying” and more.

I had an afternoon, a night, and a morning to explore the city, and got down to business:

Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar, Asheville, NC

Grove Arcade

is a sort of shopping arcade like I found at the Victorian Market in Inverness, but modernized instead of kept historical. This structure held one of my favorite finds in Asheville, the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar— I mean, can you imagine my excitement?? Such an awesome idea, and so well designed and structured inside to promote cozy little conversations.

Up Haywood Ave, I found another of the city’s highlights:

Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe

which was all a good indie bookstore could hope to be: a font of local knowledge, a repository for independent book news, a generator of uncountable staff recommendations in every category, a magnet for many local writers and visiting authors… the cafe did not manage to tempt me with its delights, but that may have been because I had already popped into:

French Broad Chocolate Lounge

where I promptly tried to order one of everything (have I done this before?) and the counter staff were patient with my questions and very helpful. I love the principles that guide the company, summed up and displayed proudly in the lounge area:

Malaprop's Bookstore Cafe

I had dinner at a small southern-style tapas joint that was pretty good, The Southern, and then found a place hosting a ‘string band’ for the night- which I learned meant bluegrass if they sang along with it. It was a bar called:

Jack o’ the Wood

and I would love to share the band’s sound with you (they were called Chompin’ At The Bit) but WordPress isn’t allowing videos for security reasons… and I’m on the road trying to get these updates out as they come, so that’s enough of that!

I returned after one fun set to my lodging, my first ever experience of AirBnb, up the hill to the north of downtown. As I would later learn, the picturesque winding, hilly roads of the neighborhood would be good practice for the Great Smoky Mountain Roads! And then next morning, I ventured forth to a famous local joint:

Early Girl Eatery

which serves typical southern breakfast fare, biscuits and gravy, fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, even “Meat ‘N’ Two’s” a southern staple, or so I’m told. I went for the biscuits and smoky bacon gravy, my first ever! Very scrumptious, and my wallet approved as well ($4 lunch, don’t mind if I do).

It was a delightful, too-short taste of a town that definitely has a lot to offer. My favorites, and missed attractions that merit a return visit are: the music, the indie scene, and the Biltmore Estate (not enough time to justify the $45 ticket).

Got any thoughts on these last three? Or the other places I mentioned? From Asheville? What did I miss?

I’ll be spicing up the ‘Life Observation’ posts with ‘Local Travelogue’ posts like this one as I criss-cross the country; next up: the Great Smoky Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains in Fog

They do look pretty smoky in the fog, don’t they?

Food, Glorying in Food

This blog is about trying new things, right? And while we may say No to certain things because we have all we can deal with at the moment, we want to make sure to say Yes when it is only fear holding us back. Case in point:

Fancy Foods Show, DCI got an email from a friend-of-a-friend-of-a… you get the point. The note was hoping for some cheap labor to help staff the booth of a vendor at the Fancy Food Show at the Washington DC Convention Center (2 blocks from my door). It would be near me, it would be about food, and I could do the weekend shifts: I gave an enthusiastic YAWP– I mean, YES, and excitedly arrived at the show on a  Saturday morning in June.

I was at a wholesalers’ booth where they featured other companies, and so got to meet several vendors even as I was working, shoving ‘all-natural’ mini-bottles of energy in front of people’s noses. I worked on my sales pitch, I tried some networking (#fail), and I learned a good deal about product marketing, candy manufacture in Denmark, and two types of chai from their producers, one stationed on either side of me.

PLUS, I got to spend a few breaks and an extra hour after my shift trotting around the show, sampling, asking questions of artisan producers- I mean, heaven, right? Well, not exactly. America is after all the land of manufactured demand… but there were also international booths as well. It was a feast for the explorative soul as well as the hungry mouth. The few that made a real, positive impression I pass on to you here. I wish I was an affiliate for these folks! :-)

Mackie’s of Scotland

Oy, you knew there’d be a Scottish company here when I said international vendors, didn’t you? Well, after not deigning to try the Haggis potato crisps when I was in the Culloden museum cafeteria, I did try them here. They were fantastic.

Wheeler Sugarworks, Inc.

I had an extensive conversation with the proprietors of “Jed’s Maple” and they were a delightful family operation from an area of Vermont near where I visited on my road trip last year. They exuded local knowledge and craftsman’s pride, and I would love to visit their farm if I get a chance to drive up there this fall.

Big Picture Farm

What an interesting idea- goat milk caramels! The caramels themselves were something special, but the intensity of care this outfit shows for their goats (all their names were listed on the table card) was evident too.

Moorenko’s

This local ice cream outfit not only specializes in outrageous flavor combinations, but keeps its ingredients as whole and natural as possible, inevitably leading to a very high-fat product. Don’t be deterred. Personally, I’ve thought of organizing a group to tour the facility in Silver Spring to see how they do it- wouldn’t that be awesome??? Shoot me an email if you’re interested…

and of course let us know what YOU’ve been able to say YES to lately, too!

Taormina: Rescued by a Resort Town

Dainties for Sale, Taormina

Sicily.

Italy can be a wondrous place, but it is like any other destination in one respect: you have to slow down to enjoy it.

In addition to sounds, scale, and people, pace is an important factor in traveling to refresh your self and reset your purpose. At home, in your life, you may have many responsibilities and commitments that constantly tug at your mind, but when you travel, you can hit the pause button on these in order to consider bigger questions, if you know how to alter your pace.

If you read the post on my journey from Sorrento to Sicily, you know that it was difficult for me to let go of knowing ahead of time my path and deal with things as I was allowed to by the Italian system (especially trains, ferries, and buses!). But this was actually one of the goals of my trip- to learn to go with the flow of things popping up as they liked. So, as you can see, Italy was the only place to practice thisOn this trip, I experienced a truck strike that prevented me from visiting Positano, and a train accident that left me stranded for 4 hours in Sicily the day before I was to fly out of Naples. Nothing if not exciting, right?

But back to pace. I had a week, and I needed some travel days, so that meant 3 days in the Neapolitan area and 3 days in Sicily. So what did I do to slow down the pace? I stayed in one town my whole time in Sicily. Some may think this a waste, but what I lost in different views I gained in depth of perspective.

The Fiat 500's View of Mt. Etna

I did not climb Mt. Etna, the live volcano that framed many of my shots. I did not go to Palermo, which is rumored to have the best arancine. I flung myself into Taormina, and wherever I wandered I did it on foot (a key part of altering one’s pace).

View of Mediterranean from Taormina town       Wedding, Taormina town square

This meant that I had time to visit places twice. To note a restaurant and come back later. To peek into a medieval church and later see it in modern use. To bathe in the light of a secret city garden plot, under stairs that split the sky.

Stairs Over a Garden Alley, Taormina

 To sample- OH, TO SAMPLE!- the delicacies on offer, including  the origin of one of my favorite treats: orangettes (the behind-right concoction)!

Delectable Treats of Sicilia

To listen to a neighbor restaurant’s hired crooner hold onto that ‘Vo’ note in Volare, just for me. To face a fear of heights and take the gondola down to the ‘spiaggia’ (beach).

Ticket for the Gondola, Taormina

…which led me to a grand view of the national sport in action, with a bonus view of the Deep Blue Sea! Who says personal victories aren’t rewarded?

View from Taormina Gondola, futbol!

Beach! Taormina

…which led to the highlight of the Taormina sojourn. Taormina, as you can see, sits on cliffs high above the sea, but they do have a few beaches down below to choose from. I joined a gaggle of university girls on a break from studies in Rome (ah, to be at that stage again!) to explore L’Isola Bella, a tiny island that is usually accessible by a sandy (actually very pebbly) spit.

There is a small museum, which I didn’t go in. After some sunning, I instead went for a swim to one side of the spit, where I observed a French family with their kids. There was a father, a mother, a little girl, an aunt and some cousins. Now when I say ‘a swim,’ it wasn’t very far, but it was still April, and the water was none too warm, so it still took some courage to dunk oneself in. Apparently the French adults thought so too, for they were staying in the shallow parts and sitting on the large rocks.

As a cousin beckoned further out, but the mother and father declined, the young girl, who was maybe 8 years old, got ready to jump in and join the cousin, turning to say to her parents: “Suivez la jeune fille forte!” and flexing her biceps.

L'Isola Bella bathing, Taormina

“Follow the strong little girl!” Hearing her say that, I just felt my heart swell. We all start off as strong little ones, confident that we can swim out to meet the cold. So maybe if we slow down and listen, we can hear that voice, and feel that confidence, again.

Clear Mediterranean Water, Taormina

 Staying in a resort town like Taormina helped me to set a different pace for a while, and listen to that strong little girl. Barring a resort town near you, how can you rescue yourself from both the hustle and bustle of outside life, and the nagging demands of your own to-do list?

Don’t put it off. It’s important.