They Say It’s Your Birthday … We’re Gonna Have a Good Time

I started my day with strawberries and it would end with strawberries. (I can’t think of many things better than that, can you?) I haven’t celebrated my birthday, really, in some time. I’m an empty-nest mom, my fiancé lives far from here. But this one just sort of happened. It started about ten days earlier, when a friend and I were trying to set up a lunch date. And then another friend of mine … oh let me just tell you about it.

Breakfast was thick Greek yogurt with fresh strawberries from the farmers’ market to sweeten it. (Popped the rest of them into the freezer—they were overripe—to make smoothies later.) And then I drove to Nashville to meet my friend Susan. We like to eat at the Sunflower Café, in the Berry Hill district of Nashville. It’s all locally sourced food, made fresh every day. Vegetarian, with vegan options too.

In a converted home on Azalea Place, you enter through the back. I’ve spent some nice minutes on this deck, reading and waiting.

In a converted home on Azalea Place, you enter through the back. I’ve spent some nice minutes on this deck, reading and waiting.

There’s always something interesting growing outside.

There’s always something interesting growing outside.

At the Sunflower Café, Nashville, 2014.

At the Sunflower Café, Nashville, 2014.

It was such a nice day that we decided to eat on their shaded patio. I had the veggie burger (love it!) and steamed vegetables.

Seats on the patio actually look out on Azalea Place.

Seats on the patio actually look out on Azalea Place.

My friend Susan, a talented graphic designer and crafter of handmade books.

My friend Susan, a talented graphic designer and crafter of handmade books.

We’re working on a project together, so we spent some time talking work, coming up with ideas and next steps. Then she had a press check and I … well, I was taking the day off. And I had more to look forward to. 🙂

Ten days earlier, my friend Heather had posted this photo to Facebook, with a message along the lines of I wish my husband didn’t have to work on Friday nights. Heather’s a cookbook editor, an accomplished cook, a farmers’ market/locavore enthusiast (as am I), and I’m thrilled to count her among my circle of smart women friends.

The Bateys are well-known and -loved in our community. And this was all the inspiration I needed.

The Bateys are well-known and -loved in our community. And this was all the inspiration I needed.

I’ve been reading about this phenomenon of farm dinners—you see them in vineyards, orchards, on working farms. This is the sort of thing I’d really enjoy. So naturally my response was Hello, you don’t need a husband to go out to dinner. Would I do? Heather promptly RSVP’d to Batey Farms.

So this was my second birthday meal. And as it turns out, another couple—Susan and Brian (she went to high school with my son)—were also going, so we made arrangements to sit together.

It’s a good thing I set out for the event in plenty of time, though, because I got confused and went to the farm store, not the berry patch. (Gerry laughed at me later when I told him I put twenty extra miles on the car, driving around in the countryside.) Over the course of a couple frantic phone calls with Heather—who’d never met Susan and Brian—she was able to locate them and everything turned out swell.

It was a beautiful evening on the farm.

It was a beautiful evening on the farm.

Gosh it was a nice night! I’d brought a bottle of sparkling pinot noir—I’d seen the menu, which included pork tenderloin, and my research indicated either white or a light red would be suitable—and while Brian dealt with the cork, I took some photos.

It really was a lovely setting.

It really was a lovely setting.

This was our roof …

This was our roof …

This was our roof …

And then they began serving.

First on the menu was a baby kale and spinach salad with bleu cheese and champagne honey vinaigrette, sprinkled with strawberries and iced pecans.

Yeah, yum!

Yeah, yum!

This was my view. (Sorry, Susan, I should’ve inched to the left a little.)

This was my view. (Sorry, Susan, I should’ve inched to the left a little.)

Heather and me.

Heather and me.

Then the sun started to go down as the second course came: smoked pork tenderloin with a potato-kale gratin, and asparagus.

It was a beautiful sunset and this photo doesn’t do it justice.

It was a beautiful sunset and this photo doesn’t do it justice.

It was dark enough that I had to use my flash for this plate.

It was dark enough that I had to use my flash for this plate.

I should say that there was live music and members of the family were circulating, visiting with folks and welcoming us to the farm. It was a nice, relaxed atmosphere. (Some folks had dressed up but most of us were dressed casually. We’d had a high of 86°F earlier in the day but the humidity was very dense. Too hot to be clothes-fussy!)

One of the elements included in the price of the meal was a basket of strawberries … if we wanted to pick them! Small flashlights and buckets were provided. So after the second course, we all got up and went out to the rows of strawberries. Heather and I picked back to back, and filled (well, almost) our basket, which we then split between us. It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything like this (especially in the dark!) but it was more enjoyable than I’d imagined it would be. It’s possible a few berries found their way right into my mouth. 🙂

Susan and Brian got a basket-full.

Susan and Brian got a basket-full.

These berries are luscious!

These berries are luscious!

When we returned to our table, dessert had been served: vanilla panna cotta with strawberries, cardamom syrup, and macadamia nut whipped cream. OMG.

Yes, it had melted a little in the heat by the time we got back but it was delish all the same.

Yes, it had melted a little in the heat by the time we got back but it was delish all the same.

By this time it was well and truly dark—about nine o’clock—and we lingered over the last sips of wine and then wandered back out to our cars. When I turned the corner on my street, my cat Spot bounded across the street two houses up, as if he’d just been waiting for me (I swear, they know the sound of the engine). Laddie and Bean were inside, just as impatient as Spot for a late-night snack. So they had kibble and I had strawberries. 🙂

real menu

Don’t forget you can click on this photo to enlarge … and then zoom in to see all the details.

A Much-Needed Vacation in South Africa

For a kid growing up in suburban America in the middle of the last century (that is, me), the continent of Africa held a particular allure. I have loved cats since I was a toddler, and, well, Africa has Really Big Cats, for heaven’s sake. All those exotic animals!

It’s still a place I’d like to go someday. In the meantime, let me introduce you to Natalie. 🙂

The daughter of one of my lifelong and dearest friends, Natalie was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. And her folks did something right, ’cause they raised a gal with some adventure in ’er! I know this because for the last year and a half, she’s been living and teaching in South Korea. I’ll let her tell it:

About Natalie

My first year of teaching I was living in the Gangnam district in Seoul—and yes, it was when Psy’s “Gangnam Style” came out. This song was everywhere! In the shopping district, it was blasting from every store. It was played in all the nightclubs. Seoul loves Psy.

I met my boyfriend, Marais, that first year in Seoul. He is South African, and lives and works in Yeongju, a small Korean town. Once my first contract ended, I got a new job in Yeongju. It was an adjustment moving from the big city of Seoul to a more humble Korean town. But I enjoy the quieter lifestyle, and I have noticed that Koreans are much friendlier in the smaller towns.

A Visit to South Africa

I haven’t traveled as often as I thought I might. Our teaching schedules in the private schools don’t allow for much travel time. But I have managed to go visit friends in Taiwan—and to travel “home” to South Africa with Marais.

I’d heard a lot about SA from Marais and other South Africans who teach here in Yeongju—mostly that it wasn’t much different from my life in America. But it most definitely was.

After twenty hours of flying from Seoul, we landed in Johannesburg. Marais’s parents picked us up. From the moment we’d made our plans, I’d wanted to see the exotic animals—so from the airport we drove three and a half hours east into what South Africans call “the bush,” which is where the animals are, of course. (Wikipedia says, “In South Africa, the term has specific connotations of rural areas which are not open veld. Generally it refers to areas in the north of the country that would be called savanna. ‘Going to The Bush’ often refers to going to a game park or game reserve.”)

This is where we stayed—a bungalow belonging to friends of the family.

This is where we stayed—a bungalow belonging to friends of the family.

South African word for “barbecue” or “grill” is braai.

South African word for “barbecue” or “grill” is braai.

First stop: the Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves on the African continent. We spent two or three hours driving around the park and saw baboons, elephants, zebras, giraffes … and they weren’t in a zoo. Wow. It was beautiful!

Mr. Baboon looks like he just woke up.

Mr. Baboon looks like he just woke up.

These guys are fantastical and beautiful.

These guys are fantastical and beautiful.

Ooooo, that’s a big one.

Ooooo, that’s a big one.

Waterbuck

Waterbuck

Impala

Impala

Ostrich with attitude.

Ostrich with attitude.

Colors, shapes, sizes … it’s all different!

Colors, shapes, sizes … it’s all different!

Just having a little nap. In a tree.

Just having a little nap. In a tree.

The wildebeest were ever present.

The wildebeest were ever present.

After those first few days in the bush, we headed northwest to Secunda—Marais’s hometown. We relaxed, visited, and met with friends for drinks in Johannesburg and Pretoria—just what a vacation should be! Marais was glad to be home, if only for awhile.

The next week we flew to Cape Town, a very old city (established by the East India Company in the 1600s) on the west coast, very near the southernmost tip of the continent. It sits on the beautiful bay surrounded by the Cape of Good Hope.

I loved Capetown! I definitely want to go back. (We had quite a bit of rain so we didn’t get to do everything that we wanted to do.) One of Marais’s university friends took us wine tasting in Stellenbosch, a suburb of Cape Town.

Taken at the Tokara Winery—it was by far my favorite of the three wineries we visited!

Taken at the Tokara Winery—it was by far my favorite of the three wineries we visited!

Here we are at another winery with gorgeous views of Cape Town.

Here we are at another winery with gorgeous views of Cape Town.

At Lourensford Wine Estate they paired chocolate with the wine. Hello! I want to go back!

At Lourensford Wine Estate they paired chocolate with the wine. Hello! I want to go back!

The next day another of Marais’s friends—a Cape Town native who studies in California—took us around downtown Cape Town. You can really see the Dutch influence in the architecture.

Everywhere you look, beautiful scenery!

Everywhere you look, beautiful scenery!

Dutch influence in the architecture.

Dutch influence in the architecture.

Still signs up for Mandela …

Still signs up for Mandela …

Has a New Orleans flavor, doesn’t it!

Has a New Orleans flavor, doesn’t it!

In Nobel Square, near the waterfront, are statues of South Africa's 4 Nobel Peace Prize laureates: Albert Lithuli, Desmond Tutu, F. W. de Klerk, and Nelson Mandela.

In Nobel Square, near the waterfront, are statues of South Africa’s 4 Nobel Peace Prize laureates: Albert Lithuli, Desmond Tutu, F. W. de Klerk, and Nelson Mandela.

The beach at Cape Town.

The beach at Cape Town.

We met some friends for drinks down on the waterfront. These two also taught English in Yeongju, so we had a mini reunion!

We met some friends for drinks down on the waterfront. These two also taught English in Yeongju, so we had a mini reunion!

Cape Town waterfront … after the rain!

Cape Town waterfront … after the rain!

The waterfront at dusk.

The waterfront at dusk.t5t6

We spent two weeks in South Afraica … and it was wonderful! The only thing I couldn’t get used to was the high security—in every home there were bars on all the windows and a security door in front of the normal door—although I never felt unsafe. I look forward to going back for sure, as I made new friends, and the countryside is beautiful.

Let’s Go to the Beach!

Are you taking a beach vacation this year?

Tybee Island, 2006

Tybee Island, 2006, from our condo (taken by Alli)

Here’s a tip: Southern Living—one of my favorite magazines ever—says “Skip the beach on Thursdays.”

Why? Because Saturday-to-Saturday vacationers tend to spend their last days (Thurday and Friday) relaxing on the beach before they hit the road home. If you’ve intended to do more than just lie on the beach—that is, if you’re in a place with lots of other activities (waterparks, shopping outlets, museums, more)—you should do those things on Thursdays because they’ll be less crowded, and the beach WILL be crowded. Also, stores tend to restock on Thursdays (while everyone’s at the beach and before the weekend), so you’ll have first pick!

Think about it!

Tybee Island, 2006 (taken by Alli)

Tybee Island, 2006 (taken by Alli)

 

50 Essential Travel Books

I’m a huge fan of travelogues (no, really, James?), and a pretty big fan of AbeBooks.com, where you can get just about any old book you want. Old being the operative term.

I’m also a fan of lists, so when AbeBooks sent me an email titled “50 Essential Travel Books,” I was all over it. Have a look at their list. Pretty intriguing! And I was startled to see I’d actually read three of them:

Roughing It (Mark Twain)
Travels with Charley (John Steinbeck)
Blue Highways (William Least Heat Moon)

Of course, I have other favorites not on this list …

Kon-Tiki (Thor Heyerdahl)
Notes from a Small Island (Bill Bryson)
Under the Tuscan Sun (Frances Mayes)
New Orleans, Mon Amour (Andrei Codrescu)

… just to name a few. And I have at least two travel books in my TBR pile downstairs, one of which is Colm Tóibín’s Homage to Barcelona (which I purchased, of course, from AbeBooks). I bet you’ve got a favorite—tell me what it is in the comments!

Daydream shelf …

Daydream shelf …

(And stay tuned: I’ve got a posts about trips to South Africa and the Philippines coming up soon!)