Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Comfortable in-between

Page 2

I take it back.

Endings are the hardest part.

Especially lately.

For me, anyway.

Or maybe it’s just transitions?

I went to North Carolina recently to help judge a chef throwdown at the Asheville Wine & Food Festival.

My friend Brooke came along for company, and on Friday night, our friend Thomas joined us.

Welcome to Asheville…

I needed the break.

But we were heading down a twisty road under a canopy of damp green to Canyon Kitchen in Cashiers, North Carolina.

From the table…

Chef John Fleer (formerly of Blackberry Farm) soon had us passing watermelon with goat cheese, chicken saltimbocca with Benton’s ham over Lazzaroli pasta and sweet tomatoes. For dessert it was Cruze buttermilk panna cotta with shortbread and blackberries.

Fleer is friends with Thomas, so he stopped by for a glass of wine at the end of the night and brought us a tuft of the panna cotta's special ingredient from the garden -- anise hyssop. We talked about Tuscan kale (his favorite ingredient at the moment), figs (his former favorite ingredient until he had trouble finding them locally), and the Dead Milkmen, a band that crashed on his floor during college.

He told us how he went from studying philosophy in graduate school at the UNC Chapel Hill(his father had been a professor at Wake Forest) to working in a kitchen for a woman who always had food under her fingernails.

Philosophy lost him to food. Academic philosophy, at least.

We started the next day at one of Asheville’s fantastically quirky tailgate markets.

We had stalks of okra swaddled in buttery sleeping bags.

Chocolate from chopsticks.

Goat cheese with bee pollen and lavender.

And beet-gorgonzola pastries that prompted a story from our host Dodie of the Asheville Convention & Visitors’ Bureau.

Dodie likes getting beets from her CSA farmer, and she once bonded over them with the guy who distributes the boxes.

Dodie (looking inside box): "Beets! I love beets."

CSA guy: "I know...Can’t you just imagine your insides all magenta."

This woman’s name is Tara.

She helps make this bread.

There's much more to say about Asheville. The city of about 70,000 has 17 active farmers' markets and more than 200 independent restaurants. They call it a Footopian Society, and I can't wait to get back.

Heard along the way:

No Mystery – Now You See Them (in the photo above)
Wildflowers – Tom Petty
Hit ‘Em Up Style - Carolina Chocolate Drops
Moon Song – Bob Schneider
There, There -- Radiohead
Far Away in Another Town – Justin Townes Earl

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