In A Pinch

Once again, this past weekend thundered in and between blinks, left at a speed with which I am quite uncomfortable. I know time flies when one's having fun but where does it disappear to? Is it just me or are days and weeks blending into one another? Time lapses aside, I hope you enjoyed a marvelous weekend. Growing up, my family often went on picnics. My Mom would prepare a basket full of goodies. Someone carried the blanket that somehow accommodated all of us. Another took ownership of a bag or two of chips. Out came the plastic cups, cutlery and plates for our moveable feast. We usually packed rollerblades and bikes to keep we children entertained in between courses. Those times were halcyon indeed. Every June, my family traveled by car from Dallas, Texas to Hilton Head Island, SC where we would set up shop for two weeks. In accordance with tradition, the picnics continued. Our favorite evenings were those when we picked up a bag of goodies at KFC and took to the beach with our blankets. Such a simple yet novel idea that made a usually normal meal, special. 

I wanted to share this Breyer custom with Matthew and so on Friday he took a half day and we set out on a picnic. I had a busy morning and thus my plans to prepare a proper meal for our al fresco lunch did not transpire. Worry not, we instead popped over to Earl's Grocery in Elizabeth. There we grabbed a turkey sandwich, the harvest salad, a bag of roasted chick peas, a small container of gherkins (very Bridge Jones of us), a few beers, a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc as well as a large bottle of water and hit the road. We made a quick detour to our apartment to pack the cooler, stock up on ice, secure cups and find a blanket. Well instead of the latter we actually used an old goose down quilt; a bit warm for the weather but we made do. We walked the pair of streets due west to Romarde Bearden Park. Friday was a scorcher and so we posted up beneath a tree in the shade, which proved quite lovely. Once situated, we unpacked and so our afternoon began.

This green urban space is spectacular. Home to mid-week concerts, summer symphonies, movie nights, Saturday morning boot camps and the likes. It's the perfect spot for reading a book, kicking a soccer ball, running laps or simply enjoying a park in the middle of uptown Charlotte. While we were the only two picnicking in the park, there was a significant amount of action going on around us. Moms and nannies chasing little ones. Folks taking breaks from the workday to walk their dogs. Children seeking reprieve from the hot day splashed beneath the waterfalls. A select couple resting beneath trees for an afternoon nap. Matthew commented that this must be how New Yorkers feel in Central Park. Something like that. All in all, our afternoon was marvelous indeed. After lunch, we spread out across the comforter for a break in the day. Let me tell you, there is something inordinately relaxing about lying on one's back with the cool grass beneath your fingers as you squint up at the sky. Picnics are not only romantic but also whimsical and fun. Pack a blanket and whatever you want to sip or nosh on and find a spot. I think that this picnic was a first for Matthew and I am pleased to report we have a covert on our hands.  

After a couple of hours in the park, 5.00 pm foot traffic was picking up and we felt a bit simple taking up real estate in the shade of the tree. Activity was taking place outside of the BB&T Ballpark, which was next up on our tour de uptown. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that this was my first game. We can watch the Charlotte Knights games from my apartment and so I have never felt a burning yen to go. In fact, for their opening game last summer, we posted up on my balcony as the national anthem kicked off the action below. After hearing such rave reviews about the stadium and its offerings, I had to go. The rookie in me assumed that Home Run seats would be VIP. While offering an outstanding vantage point, uncovered we were hot as Hades sitting in the sun. No matter, nothing that another OMB Captain Jack and the cracking of salty peanuts couldn't manage. Balcony views aside, nothing beats the real deal. We had fun and I look forward to returning. After walking the stadium over the course of three innings, we made our ways out of the park and back into the city.

My stomach was growling and so we walked to my favorite, Basil Thai Cuisine. Authentic Thai food, a cool ambiance and ice cold beers. The food here is consistently terrific. We rotate between five dishes and they are always outstanding. Chai, one of the owners, has become a great friend over the time I have been eating at his establishment. We were famished and dove into a green Thai curry with brown rice and Pad Thai with shrimp and chicken. After stuffing ourselves, we headed back to my apartment for drinks and a view of the post-game fireworks show. We actually watched them in bed and fell asleep as colors cascaded down the walls of my room. We were up early on Saturday and as tradition holds when we stay uptown, walked to Seventh Street Market for the best coffee in town at Not Just Coffee. There was a pancake breakfast event taking place for the local firemen. We heard a little boy beg a firefighter to wear his helmet; it was adorable. From here, we hopped in the car to jump onto 77 and headed north to Matthew's family's place in Jefferson, North Carolina.

Our time in the mountains was wonderful. A much welcomed reprieve from the heat and a different scene. Thanks to Matthew, I have developed a serious affinity for the mountains of our great state. We stopped for lunch at Hotel Tavern for the best of Ashe County. They serve Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc (a favorite of mine) and their cheeseburgers (ordered medium rare) are outstanding. If you find yourself in this neck of the woods, order the sweet potato fries. Evenings here invite live music and libations galore. After lunch, we headed to the New River with our blanket and cooler. The New River originates not far from Jefferson and flows north. Only it and the St. Johns River in Jacksonville do so in this hemisphere. The East River ultimately meets the Gauley River in West Virginia, which then dumps into the Ohio River. There was a great deal of tubing and kayak traffic and so we enjoyed waving to people having fun on the water. In the evening, we went to the clubhouse for drinks. The bartender told me liquor drinks were his speciality and he mixed up a Bay Breeze. Pineapple juice and cherries were icing on the cake. I roasted a chicken (sourced locally) stuffed with thyme, garlic and lemon along with sweet potatoes for dinner. With Ryan Adams crooning in the backdrop, we enjoyed dinner on the back deck as the sun set over the mountains. The next morning, we climbed the road to Jefferson State Park for spectacular views at two lookouts. On our way out of town, we stopped at Hillbilly Cafe for eggs, bacon and hot, fresh coffee. Score a table outside if you can. We arrived home in the late afternoon to get our ducks in the row for another work week. And so it goes.

Last week, I had lunch with a bosom pal from my Chapel Hill days. Our senior year we took a history course together that was taught by a man named Professor Coclanis. At some stage, his last name became my friend's nickname and it's stuck for the past 13 years. (Apologies Janet.) Over a delectable lunch at Luna's Living Kitchen (order the living burrito), she said that she would appreciate a few recipes that can be prepared in a cinch. You know those requiring minimal goodies that you have on hand. In between Scandinavian accounts, I have chosen to focus this week on precisely that. On Sunday afternoon, we threw pounded chicken breasts on the grill. I tizzied them up with some olive oil, herbs de provence and lemon zest. Two recipes for easy chicken marinades coming this week. While the chicken grilled, we added two heads of romaine (lettuce is sublime when roasted), five green onions (they become irresistibly sweet when charred) and two pieces of corn to the grates. Once finished, I served everything on a plate (lettuce, green onions and the corn that I cut off the cob) with a drizzle of a simple vinaigrette that I have included below. It's supposed to be over 100 degrees today in the Queen City. Stay cool.

Grilled Salad

2 heads of romaine - chop the top two inches off and remove the outer leaves
5 green onions 
2 pieces of corn in their husk - Matthew soaks them in water for 20 minutes before grilling. When cool, I cut the corn off the cob.
Extra virgin olive oil 

Drizzle olive oil over the romaine and scallions. Grill on medium high heat until charred and tender i.e. you can put a fork in and pull it out easily. The scallions or green onions will be done within 5 to 6 minutes. Then creatively lay everything out on a large plate and let folks dig in. If you want to make this a bit fancier, you can add blue cheese or even bacon crumbles.

Mustard Lemon Vinaigrette

2 lemons - the juice

1/4 cup of olive oil
2 TBS dijon mustard
3 cloves of garlic - chopped
Pinch of kosher salt
Cracked fresh pepper

Put everything in a mason jar, shake until uniform and spoon over your lucky salad or vegetables.

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